Coach Yow to rejoin NC State after two-month leave

Updated: January 22, 2007, 7:40 PM ET
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Two months after cancer forced her away from basketball, North Carolina State coach Kay Yow still fights a disease that won't let her rest.

The Hall of Famer showed little sign of backing down Monday as she announced she'd return to the team -- even as she adapts to what her body will and won't let her do.

AP Photo/Sara D. DavisCoach Kay Yow reacts to a compliment on her wig after announcing her plans to return to coaching.

"Of course, I'm always anxious to get back with the team but I have to be realistic about it," Yow said.

"I told myself that I don't want to get back with the team and it be a hindrance. I have to be able to make a contribution. I wanted to get back, but I wanted to be sure I could do that before I came back."

The 64-year-old coach plans to resume her duties Tuesday, with her first game likely coming Thursday against Atlantic Coast Conference rival Virginia. Yow, first diagnosed with cancer in 1987, left the team in November after doctors found the cancer that first recurred during the 2004-05 season was progressing.

Longtime assistant Stephanie Glance has led the Wolfpack (13-7, 2-3 ACC) as interim coach for the past 16 games. N.C. State has lost two straight, falling to No. 1 Duke and No. 2 North Carolina in the past week.

Yow is in her 32nd season as head coach here and has a record of 696-321 in 36 seasons overall. She was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001 and coached the U.S. women's team to a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. She has led the Wolfpack to four ACC tournament titles, 19 NCAA tournaments and the 1998 Final Four.

"Kay is such a fixture, a pioneer for women's basketball," said North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, an assistant to Yow in Seoul. "She's done so many things to develop and grow the sport. I don't know anyone who doesn't owe a debt of gratitude to Kay."

Still, Dr. Mark Graham, Yow's longtime oncologist, called her treatments "life-extending" instead of curative.

"I think she's had a good-to-excellent response at this point," Graham said. "All of her disease is not gone."

Yow's most recent problems began when she felt so exhausted that she had to lie down and rest in the hours leading up to N.C. State's game against North Carolina-Wilmington on Nov. 17. She made it through the game and called her doctor. Tests later revealed the cancer that forced her to miss two games during the 2004-05 season had progressed.

The school announced on Nov. 22 that Yow would go on leave to focus on treatment, which included a combination of chemotherapy and newer targeted biologic therapies. But she tried to stay involved with the team from afar, watching games on television or reviewing them on DVD. She also tried to attend a handful of practices so that her players could see that she was OK.

"It was very emotional at times," forward Khadijah Whittington said. "This is just like any other team without their head coach. She's a link in our chain and by her not being there, it was hard. It's very uplifting for us knowing that she's back. I'm pretty sure we're going to play with more emotion seeing that Coach Yow is on the sideline."

Yow figures rejoining the team will be part of her therapy, but she said she'll have to adjust her "high-energy-level" approach. She hopes to go on road trips, though said she would have to wear a mask on airplanes to protect her immune system and might have to skip some team functions. Her treatments might also leave her weakened enough to keep her seated during practices or while on the Reynolds Coliseum sideline.

Regardless, Yow sounds ready to keep fighting.

"There's no way to explain what drugs inside your body sort of make you feel like," she said. "How I feel now is it's almost like getting my body balanced, feeling so different on the inside and just getting used to that and operating within that framework.

"It'll be uplifting for me to be around my staff, to be around the people I've worked with for so long, to be around the team," she said. "I'm sort of coming back into this and I don't know how everything will go. It's something I have to do and see."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press