Skip to main content

College Basketball Super Survivors: Sports Figures Who Survived Cancer


Cancer can affect anyone at anytime, including sports figures. In our ongoing series Super Surivors, we look back at those who've battled cancer and survived. Here's a look at those in college basketball.

Image placeholder title

Jessica Breland

Breland had just completed a highly successful junior season at forward for the North Carolina Lady Tar Heels, averaging 14.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, when she received what she thought might be a career-ending diagnosis: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Breland missed the 2009-10 season while fighting the disease, but with the support of her family and teammates, she made an inspiring return to the court for the 2010-11 season, averaging 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds and earning ACC All-Tournament honors. Breland’s battling spirit carried her to the next level as well; after sitting out the 2012 WNBA season to work on her conditioning, Breland eventually earned recognition as a 2014 WNBA All-Star and led her Chicago Sky team to that season’s WNBA Finals. She just completed her fourth season with the Sky, averaging 9.5 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Image placeholder title

Jim Boeheim

One of the most successful and decorated coaches in college basketball history, Boeheim has won 1,000-plus games and a national title with the Syracuse Orange and has become so recognizable and synonymous with the game that he even played himself in two movies (“Blue Chips” and “He Got Game”). His platform as an elite coach gave him an especially compelling voice in his 2001 battle against prostate cancer. As a result of his fight, Boeheim decided to give back, becoming a major benefactor of the Coaches vs. Cancer initiative and joining wife Juli in founding the Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation, dedicated to child welfare as well as cancer treatment and prevention. He remains optimistic that a breakthrough will result from continued research. “Even though there have been advances, we haven’t come up with something that’s going to be an answer yet,” he said in 2012. “So you’re always looking for that answer.”

Jim Calhoun

Calhoun put UConn basketball on the map, winning three national championships with the Huskies — two of them coming after a successful battle with prostate cancer. On Feb. 3, 2003, Calhoun announced his diagnosis, taking a leave of absence that took him away from his team for only 16 days. Remarkably, by Feb. 22, Calhoun was back on the sideline for a team that would reach the Sweet 16 that season. Calhoun, who also had a bout with squamous cell carcinoma, is a Hall of Famer and one of only six coaches to win as many as three national championships (in 1999, 2004 and 2011). Interestingly, Calhoun and his colleague and fellow cancer survivor Jim Boeheim both earned their 700th career wins in the same week in 2005.

Jeff Jones

The current head coach at Old Dominion, Jeff Jones has won more than 400 games as a college basketball coach, but his most important victory came in his fight against prostate cancer. Jones was coming off one of the most successful seasons of his career — 28 wins and a 2015 NIT semifinal appearance — when surgery for prostate cancer put everything on hold. Jones scheduled his surgery for the least busy time on a college basketball coach’s packed schedule — June 1. By the following season, he was back on the sidelines for the Monarchs, humbled by the outpouring of support from the college basketball coaching fraternity. “I’ve heard from a lot of people,” he said. “It makes me appreciate, particularly in this business, how important relationships are.”

Image placeholder title