Yow found a number of ways to truly distinguish herself as a coach
North Carolina State's Kay Yow lost her long battle with cancer at age 66
Yow compiled a 737-344 record in 38 years at NC State and Elon College
She was one of only three women to coach 1,000 games at one school
When I heard the news that North Carolina State women's basketball coach Kay Yow lost her long battle with breast cancer this morning, I thought of the first feature story I wrote for SI, back in 1993. The piece was about four sets of identical twins in women's Division I basketball, and it presented a logistical nightmare: I had to get from New York to Charlottesville, Va., Raleigh, N.C., and Athens, Ga., for interviews -- and find someone to send a file from San Diego -- all in the space of two and a half days.
By the time I got to Raleigh, my second stop, I was running on empty. After talking with NC State seniors Jenny and Krissy Kuziemski, tight-knit sisters who shared a room, a car, clothes and as I recall, a driver's license, I was desperate for a nap. But I needed to talk to their coach before I left for Athens at dawn the next morning. It was already late into a long work day for Yow, but the first thing she said to me was, "Let's go scouting!" We got in her car, drove to Chapel Hill and sat in the stands watching North Carolina and Duke go at it in a nearly empty Carmichael Auditorium. It wouldn't be a banner year for NC State, which was in the midst of a three-year NCAA tournament drought, nor for the teams playing that night. (Indeed, all three teams had their best years ahead of them, including the Wolfpack, which would make the Final Four in 1998.) But we didn't talk about wins and losses, ACC titles or conference rivalries, and further thoughts of a nap never crossed my mind.
Yow and I chatted about sisters -- Yow had two, Debbie, now the athletic director at Maryland, and Susan, who has coached at the collegiate and pro levels -- and the importance of finding and giving support and encouragement wherever you are. The Kuziemskis were Yow's second set of twins; she had coached Kaye and Faye Young in the late '70s. "I love coaching twins," Yow told me. "Each is the other's biggest fan, and I like encouragers. In a game, if one gets trapped, even if she can't see anyone else, she'll know where her twin is. The downside is that if one gets upset or hurt, the other is affected, too."
Recognizing the importance of encouragement and support and being attuned to how other people suffer -- those were just a few of the ways Yow distinguished herself as a coach. There were major successes, too: In 38 years as a head coach, including four at Elon College, Yow compiled a record of 737 wins against 344 losses. In 34 years at North Carolina State she was 680-325, assuring her a spot in the loyalty hall of fame. Yow, Tennessee's Pat Summitt and former Texas coach Jody Conradt are the only three women's basketball coaches to coach 1,000 games at a single institution.
Yow coached the 1988 Olympic team to the gold medal in Seoul, and in 2002, she became just the fifth female coach inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Her teams made 20 NCAA tournaments and 11 Sweet 16s and won five ACC regular season titles and four ACC tournament titles. Yow will be remembered for all these things, of course, and for her fundraising efforts and her relentlessly positive attitude in facing a brutal disease. As she liked to say, "When life kicks you, let it kick you forward."
She'll be remembered by many for the support and encouragement she gave them, all of which came back to her in spades during her three battles with breast cancer. I'll remember her for her friendliness and her infectious energy, and for how she thought about the welfare of her players and her sport. Before I left Raleigh on that whirlwind road trip, Yow thanked me for the attention we were giving her team and women's basketball. She even gave me a parting gift, a pair of black Wolfpack practice shorts. The shorts are long gone, but I'll never forget the gesture.