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Basketball keeps Healy girls connected with dad Sacred Heart stars prepped by late father

The basketball hoop was set at regulation height. That's the way Kevin Healy wanted it, so his girls could really understand the game. And for their part, they never seemed too frustrated.

In retrospect, they joke about the ridiculousness of trying to get off a shot in their driveway when as toddlers the 10-foot high basket seemed a world away. But Kevin made sure basketball was fun, helping his three daughters learn the basics of the game and lifting them up, from time to time, to get off a better shot.

It is those driveway moments that sealed the love of basketball for Christina and Katie Healy. Their oldest sister, Sarah, played, too, but the younger siblings developed a special bond with the sport. Their passion and skill earned them both starting spots on the perennial powerhouse program at Sacred Heart Academy. That led to collegiate scholarships as Christina, a high school senior, signed with Roberts Wesleyan and Katie, a junior, gave a verbal commitment to St. Bonaventure.

But basketball is more than just an athletic outlet. It's more than a game and more than a means to an opportunity.

Basketball is a sacred space, one in which they routinely stay connected to their dad, who passed away from leukemia in 2001 at age 35.

"Every game we play for him. It's all for him," Katie said. "We know that's what he wanted us to do and we know that he's really proud of us for keeping that going, sharing that love for the sport."

Kevin, a native of Irondequoit, was a standout basketball player at Bishop Kearney High School. When he and his wife, Barbara, moved to Lackawanna and started their family, he couldn't wait to share his passion for the sport with his daughters.

"The minute they were born, one of the first things they got was a small basketball," Barbara said. "I remember skipping many dinners because they were out in the driveway playing. Kevin was very committed to his kids. I remember them playing in the dark and putting on every outdoor light possible to light up the driveway. He was 6-3, so he was pretty tall, and I remember seeing him picking them up and putting them up close to the basket so they could make their shots."

As the girls grew, Kevin coached their grammar school teams, able to spend even more time sharing his passion and forming a bond with them over basketball. During this time, he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. How he dealt with the illness made a lasting impact on his daughters.

Ask Christina about memories of her dad and basketball and the most vivid comes during his illness at one of their grammar school games.

"I remember it, first or second grade, and we were playing a game and he was sick at the time," Christina said. "He had to wear a mask because of his illness and he didn't like to be out there letting everyone know that he had leukemia. I had a game that day and he came to that game and coached it while wearing the mask. It was like, I'd rather be at my daughter's game than sitting at home."

When Kevin passed away, Christina was 8 and Katie 6. Through the difficulty, Barbara seemed to know how to help move them forward and included basketball in their healing process.

"A couple months after he died my mom took us all to family counseling so we could cope with it and realize that it is an OK thing," Christina said. "We just carry on the legacy of him, so that's kind of what motivated us, I think, and through basketball is kind of the best way to do it for him."

"We both learned from his struggle," Katie said. "He continued to do what he loved. Even though he was sick, he did what he wanted and that's how we are. When we feel down or something, we always think of him and that just motivates us more to do what we want and to achieve what we truly want to achieve."

Christina and Katie inherited their father's height -- they both stand 6-foot-1 -- and athletic talent. With a love for the sport, Barbara learned the ins and outs of the basketball world, found quality AAU programs for their summer development and decided on Sacred Heart for high school with its combination of solid academics and basketball tradition.

"She always wanted to do the best for us," Christina said of her mother. "She wanted us on the best teams, the best camps, the best high school. I think she missed one game because of work. My family is always at our games. Everyone is there to support us."

"I think my mom, she just saw how we loved the game and how her husband loved the game," Katie said. "And when we played basketball she saw him in us, so she really wanted that to keep going. She just supported us as much as she could and get us to where we are now. All that goes to her."

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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