January 25, 2007

Minus her trademark pacing, Yow returns to N.C. State sideline

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Kay Yow mostly played it cool in her return to coaching North Carolina State, giving up her longtime habit of pacing the sideline in exchange for a comfortable seat on the bench.

"I'm back at practice, but I'm having to ease my way back into everything and see how much I can do," Yow said. "I can't just jump into everything like I was before."

Just having her back was enough to satisfy the Wolfpack.

Two months after leaving her team to fight cancer, the Hall of Fame coach came back to work Thursday night and led her team on a comeback of its own, a 71-60 win over Virginia.

Ashley Key and Shayla Fields scored 18 points apiece for N.C. State (14-7, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). The Wolfpack rallied from a five-point halftime deficit, took the lead for good on Gillian Goring's stickback with about six minutes left and overcame Monica Wright's 23 points for the Cavaliers (12-8, 2-4).

But the biggest star of the night spent most of the game on the bench, trying to conserve energy.

Yow, the 64-year-old gold medal-winning coach who's in her 32nd season at N.C. State, improved her career record to 697-321 in 36 seasons.

"It's always a huge boost to have your chief back," Key said. "Just to be able to see her out there, knowing that she may have her weak moments but she'll be out there strong for us ... that was enough boost in itself."

Yow remained calm while sitting courtside alongside her team, clapping and occasionally standing to summon her players. She did show a flash of her old self just before halftime, when a charging call on Fields brought the coach to her feet, enraged, with palms out in disbelief.

"When they toss the ball up, you just sort of move into that (competitive) mode," Yow said. "But when the ball was tossed and the game started, I started feeling the old, familiar feeling. I started to get into it right away."

But Yow left the pacing and the histrionics to assistant Stephanie Glance, the interim coach during her time away. In the days before her return, Yow said she didn't want to overwhelm herself by trying to do too much too soon.

"My staff, my team -- everybody's working to help me work my way back in, just as if we had an injured player who has been out for a long time and is coming back," Yow said. "You have to work your way back in. You can't just take off as if you're 100 percent."

First diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, Yow took leave Nov. 22 after doctors found the cancer that first recurred two seasons ago was progressing and began treatment with a combination of chemotherapy and newly targeted biologic therapies.

Meanwhile, Glance filled in and went 10-6 with back-to-back losses to No. 1 Duke and No. 2 North Carolina, and Yow kept tabs on her team as part of the therapy. After receiving favorable reports from her doctors, Yow announced her comeback earlier in the week.

"If you've never had cancer, you can't even begin to understand about cancer," said Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, who had surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2000 and is cancer-free. "To see someone like Kay have it, it was really hard for me to watch her try to get through this, because it's just such a tough opponent. ... She's got a tremendous chance to hopefully overcome this, but it's going to be a hell of a fight."

There were plenty of reminders that this wasn't a typical women's basketball game between two middle-of-the-pack ACC teams.

Fans and coaches -- including Ryan's entire staff -- wore varying shades of pink to promote breast cancer awareness, in advance of N.C. State's "Hoops for Hope" game Sunday. Signs dangled carrying messages like "Pray 4 Coach Kay."

Yow entered the Reynolds Coliseum court to a 90-second standing ovation just before tipoff from the roughly 3,000 in attendance. She made her entrance from the end of the arena where banners mark her induction into the Hall of Fame and her 600th career victory.

"Seeing her fight makes me want to fight," Goring said.

She waved to the crowd, hugged the director of the pep band, flashed the Wolfpack's hand gesture (with middle and ring fingers touching the thumb to create a wolf's head) and then held both hands over her heart -- her way of saying thanks.

After the game she grabbed a microphone to address the crowd, then thanked the team and the fans before walking off the court to chants of "Kay."

"All the e-mails, cards gifts, flowers, everything that I have received has lifted me up so much," Yow told the crowd. "Thank you so much for that kind of support. You're wholesome, and you're Wolfpack family."

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