COLUMBIA — Brad Loos has a lot to be grateful for.
Four years ago, he and his wife couldn't imagine a day their daughter, Rhyan, wouldn't need daily treatment for her late-stage pediatric neuroblastoma. Rhyan has been without evidence of disease for nearly two years, finished her treatment in November, and is spending far less time in the hospital, returning every three months for scans.
He's grateful people care about his family and his daughter. Formerly one of Kim Anderson's assistants who has transitioned into a fundraising role for the athletic department, his role allowed him to establish the Rally for Rhyan game, which will be played for the fourth time at 7:30 p.m. today when Missouri (10-9, 1-6 Southeastern Conference) hosts Vanderbilt (9-11, 0-7) at Mizzou Arena.
The game has helped the Loos family raise more than $175,000 for its foundation, another thing Loos is grateful for. Today's game will have cash donation collectors at the doors before the game and walking the aisles during the second half, as well as an auction and a 50-50 raffle.
That money initially went to help cover hospital bills and travel costs — Rhyan was treated at Sloan Kettering in New York City — but since has been used to fund clinical trials for pediatric cancer research. The Loos family's fear at the beginning of the process of treating Stage IV pediatric cancer has turned into a light in the darkness for other families.
"One of the scariest things at first was just not knowing what you didn't know," Loos said Friday. "The one thing that we clung to at the very beginning was everybody else's positive stories, stories of hope. We hope that Rhyan can be that for other families that are going through this. They see that this can be beat, we are making progress with pediatric cancer research, and there is hope."
Loos is quick to point out that the Tigers are 3-0 in Rally for Rhyan games, and to joke his daughter expects big things from Kevin Puryear again this season. While the entire team wore the name of a pediatric cancer patient on the backs of their warm-up jerseys for last year's game against Mississippi State, Puryear wore Rhyan's name, and hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.
Loos said he likes to think the game gives Missouri's players a little added motivation.
"Obviously we struggled when I was coaching and to say we needed a win, that would be an understatement," Loos said. "I think these guys are going to play hard regardless. It's a home game, it's going to be a great crowd, there's a lot of energy in the building, and all of that is doing a small part to the Rally for Rhyan game, so I think it does play a factor in some small way."
Both teams are in a similar position of needing a win today. Auburn scored 58 second-half points in a 92-58 win Wednesday against Missouri to give the Tigers their second three-game losing streak in conference play. Vanderbilt has been outscored 625-497 in seven conference games, an average margin of defeat of 18 points.
Point guard Darius Garland, one of the nation's top recruits and a huge signing for Bryce Drew and Vanderbilt, played just five games before injuring his left knee, which sidelined him for the season. Garland has declared for the NBA draft and is a projected top 10 pick.
Sophomore Saben Lee has filled in at point guard and leads the team in scoring, averaging 13.5 points per game, and freshman forward Simi Shittu is second on the team in scoring and first in rebounds.
It's hard not to look at this game as one of what-ifs, played with Jontay Porter and Garland healthy, rather than two teams fighting to avoid last place in the conference standings.
"It's tough, because you implement, you go into a season game-planning a certain way, you expect a guy to be on the floor, but that happened," Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. "They've done a good job moving forward, because they don't lack effort, just some cases they might not have enough certain nights, but they don't lack the effort, the intensity to get what needs to be done."
Mark Smith, who did not play Auburn, did not practice Friday and was ruled out of today's game by Martin.
These are two programs with similar levels of talent and similar struggles at the bottom of the SEC. Missouri has elevated its play for the Rally for Rhyan game in the past, and if the Tigers can do so again, they'll have a good shot at keeping that record spotless.