Yow to miss rest of season

Updated: January 13, 2009, 9:31 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Kay Yow once again has to leave her North Carolina State program to focus on her fight against cancer.

In a statement released by the school Tuesday afternoon, the Hall of Fame coach said she will not return to the team this season due to health issues related to her battle against the disease she was first diagnosed with two decades ago. Yow, who has missed the past four games, said she just doesn't have the energy to coach the way she always has before.

Yow said she will revisit the decision no later than the end of the season. Her contract runs through the 2011-12 season.

Kay Yow

Yow

"Stepping away from coaching is one of the hardest decisions I have had to make, but I have great confidence in the experienced staff I have been working with for such a long time and the character of everyone involved in the program to respond positively to my decision," Yow said.

Yow, 66, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. The disease recurred in the 2004-05 season, forcing her to miss two games while attending an eight-day nutritional modification program. She also missed 16 games to focus on treatment two seasons ago before returning to lead her team on an emotional late-season run.

Associate head coach Stephanie Glance has led the program in her absence and will continue as the interim coach.

Voepel: Team Comes First

Even in deciding to take a leave of absence from coaching, Kay Yow displayed the trait that has always set her apart: Once again, she put NC State and her team above her own needs, writes Mechelle Voepel. Story

Yow ranks as one of the game's winningest coaches with 737 career victories in 38 years. She also coached the U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal in 1988, and earned four Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championships, 20 NCAA tournament bids and an appearance in the 1998 Final Four during her 34 years at NC State.

"Kay is a champion in the most important way; she is determined to fight this disease, while maintaining an incredibly positive life perspective," said Debbie Yow, Kay's sister and the athletic director at Maryland. "This is role modeling at its best, for all those who face significant challenges in their lives professionally or personally."

The Wolfpack (8-7) travel to unbeaten and second-ranked North Carolina on Sunday. Before Tuesday, the focus of that game was Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell -- who was an assistant to Yow in the '88 Olympics -- potentially going for her 800th career win against her longtime friend and rival.

Hatchell said that milestone doesn't matter compared to Yow's situation.

"She's been through this several times and she's been able to rise to the occasion and come back strong, and we're hoping she'll be able to do this again," Hatchell said. "It's not going to be the same without her on the sideline, win or lose."

Yow has handled her long fight against the disease with grace, saying she hoped she could inspire others while also noting that she felt better when she was around her players. Along the way, she's received countless cards, letters and e-mails from well-wishers, who often stop her to say hello when she runs errands around Raleigh.

The school has set up a link for fans to send Yow a message of support through its athletics Web site.

"Knowing Kay, it was a decision that she struggled to make," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said in a statement to The Associated Press. "She just loves the game so much.

"Hopefully this time will give her a chance to continue to fight the disease and regain her strength without the day-to-day demands of collegiate basketball. I am confident that the prayers and good thoughts of the entire women's basketball coaching fraternity are with Kay."

Yow said she is hopeful she'll feel well enough to attend some of NC State's ACC games to support the team.

"Our No. 1 concern right now is the health and well-being of coach Yow," athletic director Lee Fowler said in the Wolfpack's statement. "I speak for our entire athletic department and say we support the decision that she has made, and our thoughts and prayers are with her as she continues her fight."

Earlier Tuesday, Dr. Mark Graham, Yow's oncologist, said he has been trying to "tweak" her treatment program to get her feeling "as well as possible." Yow has been on hormonal therapy as the disease has spread to her liver and bone.

In addition to the disease itself and its treatment, Graham said Yow isn't ready for the physical demands of being a head coach right now -- everything from roaming the sideline and walking up and down stairs to locker rooms, to being at practices and team functions.

"It's a combination of all the factors together that don't allow her to do the full range of coaching activity," Graham said. "I can advise her, but all the decisions have been her own. ... At some point, she will make a decision to return or continue to postpone that based on how she feels."

Graham, who said Yow is being examined every few days, compared Yow's attitude to a golfer who "feels she needs to walk the course."

"She's foremost a teacher and this is her classroom," he said, "and if she can't be out there teaching these young women, she's not going to be there unless she can do the full job."

Information from ESPN.com's Heather Dinich and The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE