INDIANAPOLIS — Homer Drew taught dozens of basketball players how to beat the odds on the basketball court.
Now, those players are exhorting their ex-coach to take the same attitude into his own battle with cancer.
Valparaiso athletic department spokesman Aaron Leavitt confirmed Tuesday night that both the 67-year-old Drew and his wife, Janet, were recently diagnosed with cancer. The family is withholding additional details about the illnesses, for now.
"Janet and myself both appreciate all the thoughts and prayers during this most difficult time for our family," Drew said in a statement released through the university.
The Drews made Valpo basketball a family affair.
From the time Homer Drew took over a foundering Division I program in 1988, not a season has gone by without the family surname appearing on the team's roster.
Twice, Drew retired — turning over the program first to his son, Scott, and then in May to his younger son, Bryce. Scott Drew is now the coach at Baylor.
While those in the small northwestern Indiana city always embraced Drew's vivacious personality, the nation remembers him as the architect of one of the NCAA tournament's most famous plays — the tip pass to Bryce Drew, for the buzzer-beater that upset Mississippi in the first round in 1998.
That play continues to be replayed dozens of times each March and often serves as a reminder of how underdogs win.
Ex-players are hoping the deeply religious husband and wife team can keep winning.
"Just got off the phone with my coach from Valpo Homer Drew who put me in the position to have the opportunity to play ... ," former player Brandon Wood wrote on Twitter. "Everybody pray for my coach at Valpo Homer Drew and his wife who were both just diagnosed with cancer."
In 1988, Drew accepted the job at a program that had never been to the NCAA tournament, never won a conference title and never posted a winning record in the school's Division I era.
Within 10 years, Drew had created a mid-major monster.
He produced nine 20-win seasons over his career and led the Crusaders to five consecutive NCAA appearances from 1996 to 2000. His crowning achievement was taking Valpo to the regional semifinals in 1998 when Bryce was the team's star player and Scott was on the coaching staff.
Homer Drew retired for the first time in 2002, turning the program over to Scott. But after one season, the son took an even tougher job at Baylor, which had been decimated by an embarrassing NCAA scandal.
With Scott Drew en route to Texas, Valpo convinced Homer Drew to return to the bench.
Not surprisingly, he started winning again. In 2005, the father brought in his other son, Bryce, as an assistant coach for what many expected to be an eventual father-son succession. Again.
That's exactly what happened in May when Homer Drew announced for the second time that he was stepping down. At the time, Drew said he felt good and was not retiring because of any health-related problems.
Drew coached in more than 1,000 games, winning more than 640 in 32 seasons. He often said he would only leave Valpo for two other jobs — Notre Dame or Saint Louis. Instead, he's still an associate athletic director.
Bryce Drew finished his playing career as the school's leader in points (2,142), assists (626) and 3-pointers (364). The 1994 Indiana Mr. Basketball was also a first-round pick in the NBA draft.
The younger son is scheduled to make his head coaching debut Nov. 7 at Arizona. He will coach his first home game Nov. 14.
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