Kay Yow's words of wisdom have lasting impact

Playing for Kay in daily life (1:02)

Coaches and former players who were lucky enough to know Kay Yow talk about the life lessons they learned from the legendary coach. (1:02)

Marquetta Dickens doesn't remember the first time she heard Kay Yow say it.

But Dickens knows she heard it dozens of times.

When life kicks you, let it kick you forward.

Nowadays -- and especially this past week as the women's college basketball world united for Play4Kay -- the quote is synonymous with the late Kay Yow, who won more than 700 games in 38 years on the sideline. The legendary NC State coach died in January 2009 after a decades-long fight with cancer. Before she passed, Yow teamed with the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and The V Foundation for Cancer Research to form the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

In its 11th year on ESPN Networks, Play4Kay raises funds and awareness for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, which is committed to women's cancer research initiatives.

Throughout her Naismith Hall of Fame career and then in her mission to fight women's cancers, Yow was a pioneer. But her talks were as memorable as her trailblazing, and she always seemed to have the right thing to say no matter the moment.

Did Yow's players mind that she often repeated her lessons?

"Not at all. The standard joke for us was her timing was unbelievable," said Dickens, a four-year starter for NC State from 2003 to 2007. "After a tough practice or something controversial happened, she caught you in a raw moment when you really needed to hear that message."

In a world where hashtags don't hang around for long, Yow's words of wisdom -- affectionately referred to as Yowisms by those who knew her best -- have left a lasting impression. And one of her greatest legacies is how Yow's words continue to impact her friends and former players.

"Kay Yow was the best of the human spirit on display," said Stephanie Glance, Yow's longtime associate head coach at NC State. "She left us a lot of wisdom on how to live life."

Don't wallow in self-pity or you'll drown. You have to swish your feet and get out.

Yow was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. It returned in 2004 and then again during the 2006-07 season, Dickens' senior year. As she fought stage 4 cancer and underwent treatment, Yow was in chronic pain but didn't let it show, whether she was leading a huddle or running practice.

"She never let us see her down and out," Dickens said. "I just remember Coach Yow fighting, seeing her passion, her love for the game. She took what we could perceive as a negative thing and turned it into something so positive."

Glance, who now serves as executive director of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, says Yow practiced what she preached. She never allowed herself to get discouraged and expected others to maintain a positive mindset. And the above quote, Glance said, was one she pulled out of the well often.

"When her cancer came back, Kay said to herself, 'It's OK to feel a little sorry, but you can't stay in that state,'" Glance said.

"She became a walking example of everything she said to her players. Every lesson she was trying to teach them, she lived it."

Your attitude determines your altitude.

For Yow, attitude was everything. Obstacles would arise. Challenges lay ahead. It's how you confronted them that counted.

"She would talk about how we have little or no control over what happens to us; the thing we have control over is how we respond to it," Glance said. "Kay would say, 'Attitude is completely a choice.'

"I think about how she lived and the consistency with which she lived everyday with positive energy. In our lifetime, we aren't going to meet many people who live like that."

Dickens' senior year in Raleigh, North Carolina, was a magical season for the Wolfpack, even as Yow fought her third bout with cancer. NC State beat Duke, which was undefeated and ranked No. 1 at the time, and North Carolina, which was ranked No. 2. During the team's practice the day before the game with UNC, Yow was carted off the court on a stretcher and taken to the hospital in an ambulance. But the following evening, Yow was on the bench.

A few weeks later, NC State went on to beat Baylor in overtime in the NCAA tournament second round. Ultimately, UConn eliminated NC State in the Sweet 16. Dickens and her teammates felt like they had let Yow down.

"We wanted to win a national championship for Coach, but we lost ... and Coach Yow thanked us," Dickens recalled. "I remember how gracious Coach Yow was to us. We should have been thanking her.

"The unity, the oneness of that team, just coming together for a common cause? That's a feeling I've never felt since."

People don't care what you know until they know you care.

Dickens played professionally overseas and served as an assistant college basketball coach for six seasons before becoming a licensed psychotherapist.

A counselor in a private practice in Philadelphia, Dickens says she often finds herself quoting Yow to her clients. And whether Dickens was coaching or counseling, she credits Yow for teaching her to focus on people and building relationships.

"It doesn't matter what kind of fancy degree you have. It doesn't matter what accolades or accomplishments," Dickens said. "It's about how I connect with them and how I genuinely care for them."

When asked what other Yowisms she remembers, Dickens laughed and rattled off a few more. They're never far from her consciousness.

"That's Coach Yow," Dickens said. "The gift that keeps giving."