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Virginia remembers Wolfpack coach for victories on, off court

Kay Yow passes away after bout with cancer; team honors her one year after death

She had 737 career wins, four ACC championships and an Olympic Gold Medal in 1988. She was inducted not only into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, but also the Naismith Hall of Fame, which includes athletes and coaches from across the game of basketball, in 2002.

Most who knew her agree, though, that Kay Yow's biggest accomplishment as a coach - and as a person - before her bout with cancer tragically ended Jan. 24, 2009 was the way she impacted the lives of the young people she coached, the community in which she worked and basketball as a whole.

"Kay's life was nothing short of remarkable," N.C. State Chancellor James L. Oblinger said not long after Yow's death last year. "She inspired and encouraged others to pursue the game she loved, helping to develop her players, coaches and the game itself."

One of Yow's good friends was Virginia women's basketball coach Debbie Ryan, who herself grappled with cancer earlier last decade.

Following the game between the Cavaliers and the Wolfpack last Wednesday - the first between the teams since Yow's passing - Ryan reflected on Yow's presence in her life.

"I do not feel as if she has left me at all," Ryan said. "She is right here with me, and every lesson she ever taught me is going with me today."

The goodwill between the coaches through the years has elicited a friendly environment between the team's players.

"It's like a family game," senior guard Monica Wright said. "It's fun playing them."

Ryan and Yow are two of many prominent coaching figures who have been affected by cancer. N.C. State basketball has been hit particularly hard; men's basketball coach Jim Valvano - most famous for leading the 1983 Wolfpack to an NCAA title and storming the court after the upset win against Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston team - lost a battle with cancer in 1993.

Still, Yow, like Ryan, made the most of her bad situation. Time and again, Yow suffered blows from the disease only to bounce back and win a couple hundred more games before the cancer would rear its head again.

Yow was first diagnosed with cancer in 1987, 22 years before it ultimately took her life. During that span, she battled it off and on, with particularly bad spikes coming in 2004 and 2007.

After her cancer returned in 2007, she collaborated with coaches of some of N.C. State's rival schools to form the Kay Yow/WBCVA Cancer Fund, a nonprofit organization that raises money for cancer research.

And now, just more than a year after her death, Yow's lasting impact on the game of basketball can even be seen in the makeup of the fund's board of directors. Pat Summitt of Tennessee and Geno Auriemma of Connecticut, who refuse to play one another during the regular season because of a bitter rivalry, both have joined the fund's board.

Yow's ability to unite and accomplish the improbable in the face of her disease is what Ryan remembers most.

"I feel very energized by the anniversary of her passing instead of sad because I know she left a legacy that would be impossible to supersede," Ryan said.


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