When Troy Druppal won Junior NBA Coach of the Year honors in 2020 for his work teaching hoops to Warriors-crazy youth, he took it in stride.
“I just clock in every day and do the best I can to inspire as many kids as possible to do the best they can,” says Druppal, 30, of Emeryville.
Druppal is practically the definition of inspirational given the way he’s survived life’s toughest ordeals. In 2004, at age 14, Druppal learned he had osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer. He finished chemotherapy, the cancer went into remission, and he began helping his El Cerrito High School basketball team.
But the cancer came back. Doctors amputated his left arm during his sophomore year.
Losing an arm is “one of the craziest things that can happen to a kid,” Druppal says. “My dream of playing professionally was not going to happen. Those were the lowest times.”
Druppal didn’t stay down for long. He kept playing and coaching basketball. He took encouragement from good numbers on routine tests like blood pressure. Even after losing his arm, the cancer returned in 2007. He had more surgery but declined chemotherapy. His doctor said he probably had six months to live.
“Basketball was my chemotherapy,” Druppal says. “It was my form of treatment to feel better.”
As he got older, he focused on diet, meditation, CBD ointment—and plenty of basketball. He became a vegetarian in 2017 and felt his energy rise.
In December 2018, a nurse said, “We don’t know what you did, but we don’t see any tumors on your scans.” He’s been cancer-free ever since.
Meanwhile, he had created a new life in basketball. He was working at 24 Hour Fitness in Pleasanton in 2016 when a member connected him with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). The kids lit up at the sight of the one-armed guy making buckets. A coach was born.
His AAU success led to a job coaching at Warriors Basketball Academy camps in the team’s former practice facility in Oakland. (He still coaches AAU in Walnut Creek, with socially distanced practices during the pandemic.) Former Warriors star Clifford Robinson once visited Druppal’s ward in UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland; more recently Chris Mullin and Adonal Foyle have dropped by to talk to Druppal’s campers.
Druppal also plays for AMP1, an amputee basketball team. The team won a three-on-three competition in Arizona in Druppal’s first event.
The Warriors’ success as national champions happened to coincide with Druppal’s health improvements. The team rose with home-grown talent—Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. None were superstars at first, yet they formed the core of a dynasty.
Druppal took a lesson from them—one that others take from him: “Never give up on yourself, and the results will speak for themselves.”
For more information about Warriors Basketball Academy, visit gswacademy.com.