Kay Yow dies at 66; North Carolina State basketball coach, Hall of Famer

Kay Yow, the Hall of Fame women's basketball coach at North Carolina State University who won more than 700 games while earning fans with her decades-long fight against breast cancer, died Saturday. She was 66.

Yow, first diagnosed with the disease in 1987, died at WakeMed Cary Hospital in Cary, N.C., said university spokeswoman Annabelle Myers.

Yow had a record of 737-344 in 38 years -- 34 years with the Wolfpack -- in a career filled with milestones. She coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in 1988, won four Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championships, earned 20 NCAA tournament bids and reached the Final Four in 1998.

She was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2002, and five years later North Carolina State dedicated Kay Yow Court at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh.

For many fans, Yow was defined by her unwavering resolve while fighting cancer, including raising awareness and money for research and staying with her team through the debilitating effects of the disease and chemotherapy treatments.

"The really great thing about her was she had the courage to fight the battle in public," Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said Saturday. "As a result, she not only fought for her, she fought for everyone who has cancer or will have cancer and the families involved."

In her final months, Yow was on hormonal therapy as the cancer spread to her liver and bones. But she never flinched or complained, relying on her faith as the disease progressed.

"We're all faced with a lot of tough issues that we're dealing with," she said in a 2006 interview. "We know we need to just come to the court and let that be our catharsis in a way. You can't bring it on the court with you, but we can all just think of basketball as an escape for a few hours."

Yow announced earlier this month that she would not return to the team this season. Associate head coach Stephanie Glance had led the team in her absence.

Sandra Kay Yow was born March 14, 1942, in Gibsonville, N.C., the oldest of four children of a mill worker and a beautician. She began playing basketball as a child and was a star on her high school team.

Yow graduated in 1964 with a bachelor's degree in English and library science from what is now East Carolina University and later earned a master's degree in physical education at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

She took up coaching in order to secure a job teaching English at a North Carolina high school in the 1960s. Her boss, along with the boys coach, agreed to help her plan practices and to sit on the bench with her during games. Midway through the season, Yow was on her own.

"Really, it was like love at first sight," she said in 2004.

After five years of coaching high school basketball, she moved on to Elon College, going 57-19 in four seasons before being hired at North Carolina State in 1975. She coached both of her younger sisters in college.

Her original cancer diagnosis came the year before coaching the United States to the gold in the Seoul Olympics. She had a mastectomy as part of her treatment, then discovered a lump in November 2004 close to where cancer was first discovered. She had surgery that December and started on a regimen of radiation and daily hormone therapy. Still, the cancer came back, again and again.

Yow, who never married, is survived by two sisters, Debbie, a former college basketball coach who is now the athletic director at the University of Maryland; and Susan, the women's basketball coach at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina; and a brother, Ronnie.

A funeral is scheduled for Friday.