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Vol. 53, No. 3 • March 2016 • .pdf version
O'Banion receives Summitt Award
By MEL GREENBERG / USBWA Women's Representative
The season ahead was the only concern on Kent State women's coach Danielle O'Banion's mind a year ago in November 2014 as she made a routine visit to her doctor.
A few days later, she was told she was diagnosed with stage 2 lymphoma cancer.
"We call last season an untraditional season, in many ways, but certainly getting that type of news was not part of the plan," O'Banion said brightly earlier this month after being told she will be this year's recipient of the USBWA Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award for women's basketball.
"I'm really grateful for the care I received from my medical team and then the support from our families both at home and at Kent State. It was unbelievable to have that type of support and love."
The Summitt Award and men's Most Courageous Award are presented by USBWA annually to players, coaches, officials or administrators in college basketball who have demonstrated extraordinary courage in the face of adversity.
O'Banion, who as a player was part of Boston College's first two NCAA Tournament squads (1999, 2000), decided after the diagnosis to continue to coach and did not miss a game. She only missed practice on the days she was undergoing treatment to fight the disease.
"Sticking with that routine was part of the medicine that helped manage it, staying with the next recruit, the next game, the next practice – I really felt that was what helped the whole process go as well as it did," explained O'Banion, who is now in her fourth season with the Golden Flashes.
"Danny uses the same passion, drive and work ethic in all that she does," said Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, who had O'Banion on her Crimson staff the first two seasons after O'Banion graduated. "As a coach myself who has battled breast cancer, I have enormous respect for Danny who battled her cancer with such a positive perspective and inner strength. She is such a role model."
Memphis coach Melissa McFerrin, who had O'Banion as her associate head coach for four seasons prior to the move to Kent State, echoed Delaney-Smith's tribute.
"From the moment Danielle called and told me ... the first words out of her mouth were positive and how she was going to fight and win," McFerrin said. "I've never seen anyone approach cancer the way that she did.
"To see someone that I care about so much go through something so difficult and do it with such grace is a tribute to the person she is."
Happily, good news came at the end of the treatments in May when O'Banion was declared cancer free.
"I didn't expect to be as emotional that day when I was going to see my oncologist," she said, "but I squeezed the air out of his lungs and I hugged him when he told me we were in remission. But it is a real blessing to have family support around, and I think a lot of the lessons we learn in sport helped manage a less than ideal situation.
"It was a great opportunity for me to use all the lessons I learned from all the coaches I played under and worked for and certainly try to walk that same walk for our players at Kent State.
"That was a happy, happy day, and I hope each time I go back (for followups), I'll be able to hug him each time for the next four years with that good news."
The Summitt Award is named after the Tennessee coach emeritus who announced she was suffering from early onset dementia prior to her final season coaching the Lady Vols.
O'Banion will receive the award on April 3 at the Women's Final Four in Indianapolis.
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