As the coach of the North Carolina State women’s basketball team, Kay Yow mentored hundreds of young women, molding characters and refining jumpshots. Her death on Saturday, January 24 at the age of 66 is a dual blow to the sport. Yow coached for over three decades, amassed 737 wins (6th all-time), won the Gold Medal at the 1988 Olympics and oversaw a program that helped define the culture of women’s basketball. Overshadowing these accomplishments was her resilience when diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. A survivor for over two decades, Yow championed the cause, promoting awareness and prevention through her sport.
“The word ‘hope’ means everything to me,” she said while kicking off a week of games dedicated to fighting breast cancer. Yow refused to feel sorry for herself.
From the New York Times:
“I don’t think, Why me?” she told The New York Times in March 2006. “I think, Why not me? I don’t think anything. It’s life. And as you go through life, it’s just, to me, inevitable that you’re going to face tough times.”
Yow’s legacy can be seen on the sidelines of other college’s teams too. On Sunday, Yow’s sister, the coach of the Belmont Abbey women’s team, coached against a former North Carolina State player who now leads the Queens College squad. It was an emotional moment as the two coaches met at center court before the game.
“Before the Division II game, the coaches hugged at midcourt, [Trudi] Lacey breaking down in tears. ‘I told her Kay would want us both to be coaching tonight,’ said Susan Yow, whose team overcame an 18-point deficit for a 64-62 win.”
Yow was one of the most influential people in the development of women’s basketball. Along with coaches at Duke, UNC and Tennessee (Yow’s good friend Pat Summit), she helped foster the competitive culture of the sport during the early 1980s.
Summit, a living legend of women’s basketball, told ESPN the morning of her good friend’s passing: “I learned so much from her—not just about basketball, but about life.” Many across the basketball community have shared that sentiment. You might not have known who Kay Yow was before her death, but over the next months, as college basketball enters its post-season, tributes are sure to pour in.