MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - Vann Pettaway was the men’s basketball coach at Alabama A&M for 25 years. He led the Bulldogs to eight NCAA tournament appearances and eight conference championships.
The year 2005 was one of the highlight years of his career, as he led A&M to a SWAC regular season title and tournament title. But what many didn’t know was that he was facing a battle off the court as well. Pettaway had prostate cancer.
He had no symptoms. It was a routine PSA blood test that was higher than usual. A biopsy confirmed his worst fears.
"The cancer was so aggressive," Pettaway said. "It was the middle of August when I got results, and we scheduled surgery three weeks later in September.”
But he attacked the cancer the same way he would any opponent on the court.
“They laid out the different treatments, told me what was best for me,” said Pettaway. “Because it was so aggressive, I needed to get it out, and I was all for that because I wanted some more birthdays.”
He had his prostate taken out, but didn’t want to start his 43 radiation treatments until the season was over.
Pettaway didn’t waste any time, though.
“We win the championship, we go to the NCAA, the big dance, we play on Tuesday night. We lost. Wednesday we were back in Huntsville. Thursday was my first treatment.”
Looking back, Pettaway says the support of his team and family got him through.
“A lot of people were feeling sorry for me, so to be honest that was probably one of my easiest years of coaching,” Pettaway recalls. “Cause my players, they didn’t want to do anything to upset me. So to me, they played harder.”
Pettaway says prayer and trusting his doctors also got him through, and helped him understand on a greater level why this may have happened to him.
“It just came to me. I was a perfect platform to get the word out, because early detection saved me.”
Now he’s in a unique position to help coach others going through what he did.
“That’s the thing that we as coaches, we push our athletes to overcome any type of obstacles they might face during practice or during a game, then we want them to carry that over into life.” Pettaway added. “So these little stumbling blocks that came in my way, I knew I was going to overcome them, with the help from my church, my family and my faith.”