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'It's a gut punch': For former Gonzaga teammates, Jeremy Eaton's fight is their fight

Eaton was diagnosed with stage four rectal cancer a month and a half ago.

SPOKANE, Wash. — There's really no way to process your 44-year-old friend and former teammate having stage four cancer.

"It's just disbelief," said Matt Santangelo.

"We're all reeling right now," added Casey Calvary.

"It's a gut punch," finished Eric Edelstein.

But if there’s anyone who can take a gut punch, according to his teammates, it's Jeremy Eaton.

"He's a surly, tough competitor. If anyone's going to be able to make it through this, it’s him," said Mike Nilson, who was a guard on Gonzaga's 1999 Elite Eight team that Eaton played on.

"There's nobody more stubborn, with more of a winning mentality than Jeremy Eaton. He's already taken himself from Benton City to the heights of college basketball. Jeremy's just going bring that mentality to this battle now," said Eric Edelstein, who was the 1999 team's TV play-by-play announcer.

The heights Jeremy reached in his early twenties are still paying off today, as Jeremy now has had more than $55,000 donated to his GoFundMe. Some of which came from people who didn’t even know of Gonzaga before his team’s Elite Eight run.

"The Gonzaga community is a feeling. Then with something like this, you get to see it put into action. There's just something so magical about Gonzaga and so magical about Spokane. Of course, they rallied for Jeremy like this," said Edelstein.

"This thing that we call Gonzaga basketball connects us all. So, when you're connected in that way, it's like a no brainer to help. Like, the people that have the ability to help, help and that's just the way it is. You don't even really think twice about it," said Santangelo, who was a guard on the 1999 squad.

Several of his former teammates have donated as well, and a few have been recommending doctors for Jeremy to see. 

A lot has changed since the group made history for Gonzaga, but one thing that hasn’t: His fight is their fight.

"Everybody on that team has such a winning mentality. They're all putting that into how Jeremy is going to beat this," said Edelstein.

"Everyone's just rallying around Jeremy just to be like, ‘OK, what can we do?' We’re his teammates. This is what we practiced for the last 20 something years, is when your teammate needs something, you’re there for him," said Nilson.

Even, perhaps, if that surly, stubborn competitor isn’t so good at asking for it.

"Jeremy is one of those guys that could be mad at you for feeling bad for him. He never wanted sympathy. He never asked for anything," said Calvary, who hit the iconic shot in the Florida game that sent Gonzaga to the Elite Eight.

"That's the hard part of even answering your questions. You're like, ‘What am I doing, like, lovey dovey with Jeremy Eaton?' Like, that doesn't feel right. I just want to make sure he knows we love him and support him, and we're not going to let him off the hook when it's time to roast him," said Santangelo with a laugh.