Led by cancer survivor Danielle O’Banion, Kent State set to honor other fighters during “Victor Game”

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When Kent State head coach Danielle O’Banion revealed publicly that she had been diagnosed with stage II lymphoma in November 2014, her colleagues in the women’s basketball community were quick to express empathy and show support. The 13-year coaching veteran began treatment to fight the cancer in her lymphatic system four days after her announcement. In the meantime, her team soldiered on and her friends around the country continued to rally, even wearing lime green ribbons during games to show their solidarity for those fighting lymphoma.

In May, O’Banion announced that her cancer was in remission after several rounds of debilitating chemotherapy. Now, a year later, she is back on the sideline full-time to continue rebuilding Kent State.

This Saturday, the Golden Flashes hosts North Dakota in a #VictorGame, an event to celebrate those who have overcome cancer. The program’s all-time leading scorer and only woman to have her jersey retired, Bonnie Beachy, will serve as one of the honorary coaches for the game. Beachy is currently fighting cancer. She coined the term “victor (as opposed to victim)”.

The game’s events will include free wellness screenings sponsored by Akron General Hospital and opportunities to honor cancer survivors in attendance.

This week O’Banion, who is in her fourth year at Kent State, took some time out of her schedule to complete a Q&A about the upcoming game, her journey to remission and her young squad.

How did the idea of a “Victor” game come about?

Judy Devine is a former administrator, field hockey, and basketball coach here at Kent State. She is currently an adjunct professor and mentor of mine. She is also a survivor of tongue cancer. We became even more connected after my own diagnosis. She suggested the idea of a sponsored game.

Bonnie Beachy, the all-time leading scorer in KSU (men and women’s basketball) history is also a cancer survivor. She spoke to our team in September 2012 about her KSU experience, the way basketball taught her the skills to persevere through her diagnosis and treatment, and about being a victor as opposed to a victim. She also became my “life coach” during treatment. She will be with us as honorary coach for the game.

As our story broke last year, I was overwhelmed by the number of people praying for and supporting our team. I also received emails from people like Connie, about her daughter, Darcy. At the time, Darcy was 26 years old, six months pregnant, and recently diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Connie reached out, because she and Darcy didn’t have anyone to talk to (non-physician) about what to expect from treatment and the journey. We became friends and Darcy, Connie, and baby Hayden will be with us for the Saturday’s event. Darcy will be our other honorary coach.

How were you able to stay positive during your battle with lymphoma to become cancer free?

Prayer, old school gospel music, and submission. As I mentioned before, the number of folks who rallied in support of our program and my treatment was overwhelming. James Cleveland and Shirley Caesar stations on Pandora still play every morning in our house! We ask our players to submit themselves to the team and that was the first thing that came to mind for me. This diagnosis was really not about me, it was about “walking the walk” for our players.

What advice would you give other coaches who may find themselves in a similar situation?

Routine, routine, routine. Commit to doing what you would normally do to help yourself be at your best for your team for as long as your health allows. Continue to work out, teach and coach, recruit, practice and game plan, because your team is watching and needs you. It also prevents you from sitting in a dark room by yourself contemplating the worst case scenarios. However, trust your staff when you’re not feeling up to it. You hired them, now let them work and grow.

A lot of coaches rallied with you publicly via social media and wearing green ribbons at games. What was it like to have the support of your colleagues?

I was blown away by their expressions of support and was never more proud to be in this profession. The people are what make the “product” and college women’s basketball is in great hands.

You have a very young team with nearly half of the squad comprised of freshman and no seniors. What are the challenges of coaching such a young squad?

We love this team because of the way they love each other. Our team chemistry is the best it’s been since our arrival. The challenges are empowering them to compete against their best friends in practice daily while trusting that they will still be best friends after practice and helping this youthful team understand how hard we must prepare and compete every day and not just on game days.

Overall, what can fans expect from Kent State WBB this year and what are your goals?

Fans can expect an uptempo and fun style of play. These women are committed to chasing championships and this particular team is intact for two seasons (no seniors this year) to get it done.

Kent State is 2-3 heading into the contest vs. NDSU is 2-4. The teams have met once before. Sophomore Jordan Korinek leads the Golden Flashes with with 17.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Saturday’s game will air on Golden Flashes iHeart Radio and locally on 640 AM WHLO.

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