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Duke walk-on Besser to bike across the US for charity


DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — One Duke men’s basketball walk-on will spend his summer biking across the country.

Brennan Besser plans to bike, walk and run from Seattle to New York to raise awareness and funds for his charitable foundation.

“Basketball, even though it’s a game that we all love, serves, really, as a vessel for the leadership coaching that (coach Mike Krzyzewski) teaches us,” Besser said Thursday. “The bike, I know that this is exciting ... but it’s really just a vessel for the broader message.”

Besser’s roughly 70-day journey starts May 16 and will wind more than 3,400 miles across the United States. At most stops along the way, he hopes to hold basketball clinics or other events with the goal of generating $1 million for the Walk On America Foundation, which supports charities that help the intellectual and developmental disability community.

“What we’re hoping to do is shine a light on a part of the American community that doesn’t have that strong of a voice,” he said.

Krzyzewski describes Besser as a “one-of-a-kind walk-on” because “the spirit he brings is infectious on this team.

“Nothing he does surprises me, because almost everything he does is not about him,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s about his talents, his emotion and his effort to help others. This is a terrific thing that he’s doing this summer and he’ll accomplish so much for so many people.”

Besser’s inspiration is his older sister Jacqueline, who at age 23 is nonverbal with impaired motor skills and communicates largely through a tablet computer.

“There are millions of lessons that she’s taught me, but it’s those big things like, how do you deal with adversity?” Besser said.

He plans to travel 60 miles a day — some days for up to six hours — with a team of 3-5 people, including a medical professional, and has been training by biking around Durham. His longest ride has been roughly 2½ hours, but the Chicago native said he used to bike along Lake Shore Drive when he was younger as a “meditative activity.”

“I’ve tried to bike a lot, as much as I can, but time will tell,” Besser said.

He plans to enlist former and future Duke players to help with those clinics. When the route runs through Minnesota, Besser hopes Timberwolves players Amile Jefferson and Tyus Jones and Jones’ younger brother Tre, a rising Duke freshman, will help with a clinic. And he’s asked Grayson Allen to take part in an event in New York at the end of the journey.

Besser, a rising senior, first pitched the idea to another older sister, Rachel — a New York-based creative director — and he said her initial reaction was, “Here’s another of Brennan’s really big ideas” because “I end up tending to think, like, largely.”

“I’ve always wanted to do something that would help this community, only because of the close connection that I have,” he said. “I’m also a political science major, so I’m a bit of an American patriot. (To) merge them into one is something I’ve wanted to do. ... The time is now. ... We’re going to push strong to try to accomplish this.”