NORTH CAROLINA STATE women's basketball coach Kay Yow, who died last Saturday at the age of 66 after a long battle with breast cancer, will be remembered for far more than her coaching record, though it is a monument to success and loyalty. In 38 years as a head coach, including four at Elon College, Yow racked up 737 wins against 344 losses; during her 34 years in Raleigh she was 680--325, making her one of only three Division I women's coaches with 1,000 games at a single institution. (Tennessee's Pat Summitt and former Texas coach Jody Conradt are the others.) Her Wolfpack teams went to 20 NCAA tournaments, 11 Sweet 16s and one Final Four, and they won five ACC regular-season titles and four ACC tournaments. In 1988 Yow coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in Seoul, and in 2002 she became the fifth women's coach inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame. Remarkably, Yow achieved all this without ever letting competitiveness eclipse the compassion that distinguished her as a coach and teacher.
I first met Yow on an assignment in 1993. The subject was identical twins, for she was coaching her second set in 15 years. "I love coaching twins," she told me. "Each is the other's biggest fan, and I like encouragers."
At heart, Yow was one herself. Her hallmark was her positivity, a quality she sustained even during the 2006--07 season, when, 20 years after her cancer was first diagnosed, chemotherapy treatments robbed her of her hair, appetite, fingernails and much of her famous energy even as she was inspiring her team to reach the Sweet 16. Gillian Goring, a senior center on that team, no doubt spoke for many when she talked in 2007 of what Yow's example would mean for her going forward: "You will go through a lot of stuff in life that will try to pull you down, but you raise up and shake it off. She lived by what she always told us, and I will try to do the same. Don't drown in self-pity. Swish your feet a little, then get out."