If anyone had full confidence the Huskies would win the CAA championship, it was Max Plansky.
Plansky, 16, of Danvers Mass., has been a consistent source of inspiration for Northeastern since signing a national letter of intent in 2013 through Team IMPACT, a program aimed at improving the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses.
Plansky has attended every Northeastern practice and home game, even on school days, during his time with the Huskies.
Because his severe cerebral palsy limits his traveling abilities, away games are usually dubious. But Plansky, who long ago predicted Northeastern’s deep run, deserved to be with his teammates when it counted.
“We got to get ready for March,” Plansky told his speech specialist earlier in the season.
Once his father, Michael Plansky, heard the message, he made his son a promise: If Northeastern made the championship round of the CAA tournament, they would find a way to get down to Baltimore.
With the help of the Northeastern coaching staff, Michael would reunite his son with his teammates in the championship, which evidently reunited Northeastern with the NCAA tournament.
Even before the early wakeup and the long, uncomfortable drive, Plansky had already provided a spark for Northeastern.
Before the start of the tournament, coach Bill Coen reached out to various alumni of Northeastern basketball requesting they send in a video-recorded bit of advice.
The video included Matt Janning, Chaisson Allen and NBA champion J.J. Barea, all saying what it would take to win a CAA championship. But the message that sent the Huskies’ locker room into a frenzy?
An image of Max Plansky using his computerized speaking device, to say, “Northeastern basketball, I love you guys. I’ll see you at the championship.”
The Huskies were so moved by their teammate’s message, they replied to his recording with their own video.
But getting Plansky to Baltimore is easier said than done.
While the Huskies were resting after a hard-fought win against UNC-Wilmington in the semis, Plansky and his father were waking up at 6 am on Monday morning for a 7-hour trip to Baltimore.
A 7-hour drive isn’t easy for any 16-year-old but not stretching out of his wheelchair for that long would be strenuous for Plansky.
“He just gutted it out,” said Michael. “He was just so excited about it. Every game is like Christmas for him.”
Upon arriving, Michael learned that the family’s parking had already been taken care of at the Royal Farms Arena. In fact, coach Dave McLaughlin was standing in the parking lot waiting for them when they arrived.
The Northeastern assistant coach got credentials for Plansky and his family too – but did it without telling any of the other players.
So when Plansky wheeled into the Northeastern locker room before tip-off of the championship, it gave a tense locker room a pre-game celebration.
“They were doing there pregame stretches and then suddenly it’s ‘Max is here! Max is here,” Michael said.
Plansky stayed in the locker room for pre-game and would return for halftime. Before the game, while Coen went over the game plan with his players, Michael said the coach regular would stop and ask Max if he approved.
“They include him in the true sense of including,” Michael said.
Plansky has a usual spot during Husky games: at the end of the bench, to the right of personal trainer Art Horne.
It would be no different for the CAA championship. Plansky took ownership of his spot and his role of being positive from start to finish.
“He’s so happy to be there,” said Michael. “It doesn’t matter if things going are good, bad or whatever, he’s got a positive attitude.”
He wasn’t always like that. When Michael, a former player at Fairfield, left a career in coaching, he said Plansky struggled to control his emotions and would have bursts of frustration.
But ever since a Northeastern loss to Harvard earlier this season, he’s noticed a calmer, cooler and collected Plansky.
“That’s 180 degrees from what he used to be,” Michael said.
The growth of his son influenced Michael to found “You’re With Us,” a program aimed at connecting able-bodied college groups with disabled young adults.
If he needs any evidence for how affective the collaboration can be, he only needed turn to the end of Northeastern’s bench during the championship game.
Even when Marcus Thornton and Daniel Dixon led a late rally, cutting the Huskies’ once 20-point lead to single digits, Plansky remained unnerved.
And when the final buzzer sounded and the celebration had begun, Plansky’s teammates made sure he was in the middle of it all.
The 16-year-old was at the center of every victory picture and his team made sure to cut a piece of net just for him.
“He’s been an inspiration to these guys and really a source of compassion,” Coen said in the championship post-game presser. “…I’m so proud of the way our team has accepted him, embraced him and made him feel welcome and special and in return these guys get so much more.”
And Plansky is proud as well. When asked what gives him the most joy about being on the team, he said, “Just being around the guys.”
“It’s just special,” Michael said. “I don’t think I can put a different word on it. That’s become his identity, to remain rock solid. And I can’t see how that doesn’t rub off on other people.”
Seven questions with Max Plansky: Northeastern’s unsung hero
1. Has it hit you yet that your a member of the first championship team for Northeastern since 1991? It hasn’t hit me yet.
2. What does that mean to you?
I am happy for the guys and the coaches and all of their hard work.
3. What was your favorite moment from Monday?
Being part of the post game celebration.
4. In what area have you changed or grown the most since joining Northeastern?
Trying to remain positive no matter what happens.
5. Who would you rather play in the NCAA tournament.. Kentucky, Kansas or Maryland?
Maryland, but don’t let them know.
6. What about attending practices and games gives you the most joy?
Just being around the guys.
7. Any teammates you’re specifically proud of after this season?
All of them.
Cor: An earlier version of this story referred to Michael Plansky’s father as Tim. His name is Michael.