Bountiful rallies around hoops player Manu and his mom
When you're on the fence about something, it's a safe bet to ask Mom.
Before Bountiful High School senior Mosese "Mo" Manu decided to play basketball for the Braves during his final year of high school, Mom chimed in and talked him into it.
Which is why this week was so exceptional.
Prior to Friday's dramatic overtime loss to Sky View, the Braves had won 20 consecutive games dating back to Dec. 6. They were dominant, and Mo was a key cog in the run.
But Mo and Bountiful still are entrenched in a much more important battle. Mo's mother, Lile, is fighting cancer for the second time.
"She told Mo, 'It's your senior year and you'll go as far as you guys want,'" Mo's father, Salesi Manu, said.Â "It does make it very special. If it wasn't for my wife, he wouldn't have been playing basketball this year."
Lile's fight with brain cancer has become Bountiful's fight. The community has rallied around the Manu family. At least once a game since she was diagnosed, the student section, the BASS, roared, "We Love Lile!"
And right at the center was Mo, who was working for a state crown, keeping up his schoolwork, worrying and taking care of his mom.
As his aunt Natalie Tua'one explained, no matter what time Mo returned home from school or practice or a game, he did what was asked of him. "He's always been an exceptional boy ever since he was young."
Bountiful coach Mike Maxwell has seen the impact of having Mo in the starting lineup during that Braves' magical streak. He rebounded. He passed. He defended. He knocked down a corner 3-point shot with ease.
"Win or lose," Maxwell said, "we just have to help make Mo's life [that of] a teenager."
Basketball helped Mo watch his mother battle for her life. He knows how much his teammates and friends and fellow students love and support the family.
And the basketball court offers a temporary reprieve from harsh realities.
"I look at sports as a getaway," he said. "As soon as I step onto the court, it seems like all I have to focus on is what I practice for. When I step off the court, I can worry about all that other stuff."
For Lile, it's about more than basketball. It was her opportunity to salute a community that has wrapped its arms around the Manu family. She attended Bountiful's first-round victory over Westlake High School and sat above the Braves' student section as the "We Love Lile!" chant echoed throughout the Dee Events Center.
Tua'one and sister Valeri, along with Salesi Manu and other family members, cheered back, wiping away tears.
"It was really special. It was a milestone for her," Natalie Tua'one said. "We kept telling her to reach certain goals, and if she did, she'd be able to come to a game. She kept those goals."
Goals included standing on her own, walking to the dining table. Lile works hard for one more shot to see Mo play.
"He uses his mom as an excuse to play hard," Salesi Manu said. "If his mom can withstand the pain, all she asks is he play his hardest."
Maxwell said watching a player deal with pain and adversity is as tough as it gets.
"Every year is special, and you always try to find something," he said, "but this was just one more thing that said, 'We have to rally around this.' "
The Braves responded. One of the most popular Twitter hashtags in the Utah high school realm regarding any school or sport this season is "#TeamLile," in support of her struggle as well as giving a virtual pat on the back to Mo.
Bountiful's run even made overnight basketball fans of some in the family, Salesi Manu said.
"Everybody is coming together," he said. "That's what is amazing."
Natalie Tua'one said Mo can thank his father for his strength and his height, but he "got his courage from his mom."
That much was clear Friday as Lile sat in her wheelchair for the second time in a week, watching her son, whose Braves lost on an overtime half-court buzzer-beater. Once the game ended, the Bountiful student section turned toward Lile and began chanting one last time.