"To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special."
-- Jim Valvano (March 10, 1946-April 28, 1993)
Hues of blue and deep reds starkly divided the crowd of thousands. Kay Yow's seat on the North Carolina State bench was placed directly at half-court, where the contrasting shirts met, as if to bind the opposing sides. On the court, the players donned pink shoelaces, and pink ribbons were attached to their jerseys. Superficially, it was an eyesore. But in that moment, it was beautiful.
It was March 2007, and the women's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament was coming to a close at the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina. But it wasn't just a tournament; it was a battle. For everyone -- coaches, players and fans -- it was an emotional battle.
During halftime of the semifinal matchup between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Maryland Terrapins, Yow and Virginia coach Debbie Ryan were honored as co-recipients of the Bob Bradley Spirit and Courage Award. The two had fought cancer (Ryan with pancreatic, Yow with breast cancer), and Yow's then-20-year struggle had picked up steam as her previous mastectomy, radiation treatment and hormone therapy had done little to keep the disease at bay. Yow's fight had drawn supporters from around the country, but especially in the conference. After all, she was born in North Carolina (Gibsonville), schooled in North Carolina and had spent her entire coaching career in North Carolina. This was her home.
In her 38 years of coaching -- four with Elon College, 34 with N.C. State -- Yow compiled a 737-344 record. She led the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in 1988 (a year after her cancer diagnosis) and the Wolfpack to four ACC tournament titles, 20 NCAA tournament bids and a Final Four appearance. And in 2002, she became only the fifth female coach inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
During the 2006-07 regular season, Yow took a 16-game leave to focus on her treatment. When she returned to the sidelines, her strength had yet to return with her. But for her team -- to have its coach back on the bench, back where she had always been for the past 26 seasons with N.C. State - Yow's homecoming brought a renewed sense of dedication and a wave of inspiration. The Wolfpack's home court, Reynolds Coliseum, was renamed "Kay Yow Court," and the team won 12 out of its last 15 games, taking down conference rivals North Carolina and Duke before falling to Connecticut in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
As N.C. State plowed forth in the conference tournament that year, a record of nearly 70,000 spectators filtered in and out of the coliseum over the weekend, not only to watch some of the top players and coaches in Division I basketball go head to head, but to also take part in an inspirational movement. Though not officially named, it was the Kay Yow movement against cancer, and it was shared by all -- strangers and rivals alike.
In the press conference following the final game, which the Wolfpack lost to the Tar Heels 60-54, even the stoic demeanor of reporters were tried as Yow struggled to speak -- her chemotherapy treatment, just a week prior, cut away at both her strength and voice. Her once glowing visage looked drawn and tired, her eyes drooping and vacant.
A couple of ambulances were parked discreetly at the rear of the coliseum, while emergency medical personnel were scattered throughout as eerie reminders of what could happen. While her team was on the floor, the once energetic and physically involved coach struggled to adhere to doctors' orders. Her assistant, Stephanie Glance, who had taken over the team in Yow's absence to lead the Wolfpack both in play calling and in spirit, played the role of guardian on the sideline. Her primary duty: keep Yow from getting too excited. Keep her seated. Keep her from expending too much energy.
During the regular season, UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell and Ryan carpooled over to Yow's house in Cary, N.C., to spend time with her, to talk about life and relationships -- to enjoy each other's company outside of the gym, the rivalrous tensions cast aside. Hatchell remembered it as "a really special visit."
For the thousands at the Greensboro Coliseum that weekend in March, Yow's appearance in the midst of a tiresome fight for her life was their special visit. Because, in taking what her late N.C. State counterpart, Jim Valvano, once said, cancer could take away her physical abilities, but she refused to let it touch her mind, her heart or her soul. She refused to stop fighting.
ANDERSON: We've learned not to count out Yow