KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Any game played by the University of Houston or University of Miami men's basketball teams isn't complete without Jace Abarca or Brennon McDaniel.
The pair kept the tradition alive on Friday when the Cougars and Hurricanes met at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri, to square off in the Sweet 16.
Jace, 10, joined the Cougars last August, while Brennon, 15, has been a member of the Hurricanes for the last four seasons.
They were paired with the teams through Team Impact, a nonprofit that matches children facing serious illnesses and disabilities with college sports teams.
Since joining their respective teams, its been nothing but good times for Jace and Brennon.
"It's been amazing, they put me with the Houston Cougars," Jace, who has nephrotic syndrome and lupus, said before Friday's game. "The experience has been amazing. I love it; it is one of the best years of my life."
Brennon says he feels the team's impact off the court as well.
"When I first joined the team about four years ago, they really impacted a lot of my schooling," Brennon McDaniel, who was born with a heart condition, said Friday. "Whenever I'm low, I always think of them and how hard they practice."
What's been most important to the pair is the bond they've built with players.
Jace says his favorite players on Houston are Emanuel Sharp and Jamal Shead, but not just for their skills.
"Emanuel, every game we had, he would always give me this big fist bump, and it would always make me so happy," Jace said. "And Jamal, after the season is over, he said he'll play some games with me."
Jace said they plan to play Roblox once the Cougars' season is complete.
Brennon says his favorite player for Miami is Harlond Beverly, who's always there when McDaniel needs him the most.
"Whenever we're at a game, he's the first person that comes up to me," Brennon said. "He's always hugs and high-fives. When he was injured, he would always want me to sit next to him."
Those closest to Brennon and Jace have seen first-hand how important the relationships they've built through Team Impact are.
"He's (Jace) become more outspoken and happier," Jace's mother, Yaneth Abarca, said. "The guys are great. They're always really sweet to him and always high-fiving him."
Brennon's father Stephen McDaniel said the mentoring gained through Team Impact is priceless.
"He's like a member of the family, truly the Hurricanes are one big family," Stephen McDaniel said. "That's really what we've been welcomed into."
Those with Team Impact said those bonds are what the nonprofit is all about.
"What we always hear from the student-athletes is they want to make sure that their teammate has the support they need when they're battling through illness," Team Impact CEO Seth Rosenzweig said. "The children teach the student athletes a lot about life - the game of life. And around perspective and grit and perseverance and what really matters."