College basketball loses a legend

By Brian Loschiavo
March 5, 2009

Kay Yow will live on in the hearts and minds of sports fans forever. On Jan. 24, the face of sports in our country changed forever as we lost one of the most profound coaches of all time in any sport.

Yow, the head women’s basketball coach at North Carolina State University, lost her long time fight against breast cancer at the age of 66.

Yow coached for more than half her life, 38 years to be exact, 34 of those years in women’s college basketball at N.C. State.

She witnessed the birth of modern day women’s basketball. She saw women’s basketball transform into what it has become today. She was a huge part of the development of women’s sports, specifically basketball.

In my perspective, women’s basketball has been left with a permanent void. Yow was more than just a coach. She was a mother to every young woman she ever coached, a friend, a mentor and a pioneer of the sport.

There are not many successful people out there who have not had an enemy in their life and that is something she prided herself on. She was universally liked and admired, a true leader and role model for anyone, male or female.

The story of this legend is one that I have so much care for because of my ties and love of college basketball, more specifically women’s basketball.

From a young age I grew up playing basketball and watching my sister play. She developed into an amazing athlete and a future women’s college basketball prospect. This brought me closer and closer to the women’s game. She is now a senior on Saint Joseph’s University women’s basketball team and has played against Yow’s Wolfpack twice in her career, upsetting their 24th ranked team her freshman year.

These were the games that I loved. I remember sitting in the stands watching Kay Yow work the sidelines as if she were a movie star. I’ll never forget that because even though I never got to talk to her I can always say that I was in her presence and that’s enough when talking about a woman like her.

This woman, who began her first battle with cancer in 1987, never allowed the cancer to victimize her and never wallowed in self-pity. She saw this as an opportunity to touch more people’s lives, like she did with all hardships in her life. Just seven years later she lost her mother to cancer. This was followed by one of her best friends and colleagues Jim Valvano. Jimmy V. was the men’s basketball coach at N.C. State and was also an inspiration to Yow.

After her long fight with the cancer in the ’80s and early ’90s, she was in remission until it returned again during her 2004 season and again in 2007.

The thing that amazes me about this woman is the fact that the cancer took so much of her life away from her but during this she always had more to give. She was a woman that believed you deserve no more than what you earn and what you earn is a scale of how hard you worked.

Yow is one of the most winning coaches in both men’s and women’s basketball with over 737 wins in her career. This is an amazing feat and shows that she is truly a great coach because she started from scratch at N.C. State and turned the program into an Atlantic Coast Conference power.

Even though Yow accomplished so much in coaching she always stressed that to her it was not just about the wins and losses, it was about investing in people’s lives.

When this hall of fame coach was diagnosed with cancer she started the Kay Yow foundation for breast cancer research, which was partnered with the Jimmy V. foundation in memory of her long time friend Jim Valvano. This has continued and will forever.

During the month of February, in a tradition that started in 2007, teams across the nation wore pink uniforms, sweatbands, shoelaces and socks for the “Pink Zone” initiative started by Yow. This is not something that has just touched the women’s basketball world. Many male coaches and even some men’s college basketball teams have joined in wearing pink ties and uniforms and have raised money for the fight against breast cancer.

Cabrini’s women’s basketball team took part in this as the entire team wore pink socks and sold t-shirts at the Nearny Field House to raise money for the Yow WBCA Foundation.

Just a few weeks ago, I watched the N.C. State women’s basketball team play on television against the University of Virginia who are ranked in the top 10 in the nation. All of the woman on the team wore their pink uniforms and each player’s last name was replaced by Yow on their backs.

I sat at my house almost in tears watching as N.C. State upset the Cavaliers in a dramatic fashion. It was like watching a Hollywood production. Yow had everything to do with that win and will have everything to do with that program and women’s college basketball forever. She left footprints on the sport that will never be washed away.

Every human being should go through life the way she did, not just those in the sport of women’s basketball. As she would say, “When life kicks you left, it kicks you forward.”

Brian Loschiavo

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