Balling for the Cure founder dies from leukemia

Donovan Gayle was known across the province for his basketball skills and his community engagement.

Donovan Gayle played with the Brandon University Bobcats

Donovan Gayle, a former Brandon University basketball player and assistant coach, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2013 and died on Dec. 15, 2017.

Donovan Gayle was known across the province for his basketball skills and his community engagement.

But after a four-year battle with leukemia, Gayle, 35, died on Dec. 15.

"With his diagnosis he had to deal with a lot," said Adam Wedlake, executive director of Basketball Manitoba.

"[He] could have just thrown in the towel or just completely caved in but he took that as an opportunity to make the community around him better."

Gayle, who was originally from Jamaica, grew up in Toronto but came out to Manitoba to join the Brandon University Bobcats in 2008.

Wedlake recalled how Gayle spoke about having a difficult childhood in Toronto and how basketball afforded him the opportunities to travel, get an education and stay out of trouble. 

Gayle, or "Deebo" as he was known to many, quickly made a name for himself on and off the court. After his cancer diagnosis in 2013, his reputation for caring about the community grew even more, Wedlake said.

He started the Balling for the Cure basketball tournament which has raised more than $20,000 in four years.

"[Gayle has left] big shoes to fill and we are definitely going to continue with this tournament that he basically single-handedly started four years ago," Wedlake said.

Gayle was a coach and volunteered at the University of Winnipeg with newcomers, particularly Syrian refugees, Wedlake added.

Four young basketball players will receive scholarships in Gayle's memory at this spring's Basketball Manitoba Awards, Wedlake added.

"Donovan is just the epitome of the character of people that we have that are the unsung heroes out there. They don't do it for the fame or fortune, they just get involved," Wedlake said.

Gayle's funeral service will be held in Toronto on Jan. 6, and Basketball Manitoba has arranged for it to be streamed at the Sport for Life Centre. For more information visit Basketball Manitoba's website.