For the NAU men’s basketball team, a trip to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., was the start of a lasting relationship with one special little boy.

The Lumberjacks met Damien Chiasson-Larson, a 5-year-old patient at St. Jude’s, while the team was in town for a game in November.

Damien has been a patient at St. Jude’s since August when a CT scan revealed a large mass on his brain stem and surgery was not able to remove all of it. His older brother, Robert, plays basketball, so he had an instant connection with the NAU players when they stopped by the hospital for an autograph session.

Three weeks after the team’s visit to Memphis, the Chiasson-Larson family went to watch the team earn a victory against Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., which is not far from their family home. Damien supported NAU from the stands with his family and enjoyed celebrating and hanging out in the locker room with the players after the win.

On a family trip for the holidays, Damien and his family traveled through Flagstaff and watched the team play again as they defeated San Diego Christian at home in the Skydome.

“We left our trip a day early because we saw that the team had a home game against San Diego Christian,” said DJ Chiasson-Larson, Damien’s father. “That’s how much the guys mean to us. They have really touched us and taken Damien in. It shows a lot of character on the team’s part.”

For the Lumberjack basketball team, Damien has become a member of the family and their sixth man.

“It’s really a blessing to be able to have the Chiasson-Larson family in our lives,” said NAU player Kris Yanku. “Here’s a little kid going through one of the toughest things that someone his age can go through, but he still comes into the locker room after our games and has the biggest smile on his face. It really just cheers me up.”

Chiasson-Larson added, “Damien is going through a lot and he feels that people treat him differently. When he is around the NAU basketball team, he feels like he’s one of the guys.”