Colgate Coach Bruen Battles Cancer
HAMILTON, N.Y. (AP) _ It seemed like just another game, with Jack Bruen explaining in his own inimitable way how his Colgate team had defeated Dartmouth.
``We almost snatched defeat from victory,″ he said after Colgate began its season Friday night with an 80-73 win, nearly blowing a 23-point second-half lead. ``That old foul line came out to haunt us again.″
Bruen, no doubt, would have liked to keep talking basketball and how his team will have to regroup this season without center Adonal Foyle. But the questions were about Bruen: How was the chemotherapy going? How was he feeling?
``I feel terrific,″ he said. ``A `W’ always makes me feel better. I’ll sleep good tonight. I’m sleeping good every night. Everything’s going well. The doctors are happy. Six more weeks of it and then we’ll get a read on it.″
Bruen, 48, knows that reading may not be good because he has pancreatic cancer, and the malignancy has spread to his liver. He knows the odds are stacked heavily against him _ 50 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within six weeks of diagnosis, and few make it more than six months to a year.
And yet he coaches on and remains almost impossibly upbeat. The court is his sanctuary.
``I’m kind of like an adviser, really,″ said Bruen, who worries most about his two kids _ daughter Kristen, in her last year at Virginia Tech, and 8-year-old Danny, who probably doesn’t understand the urgency of it all.
``I’m just kind of putting in my two cents here and there. It’s worked out pretty good. The kids are playing much more relaxed. I think there’s a lot less pressure on them. We’ve been very, very good in terms of just being positive with them. This is your year. Enjoy it and make the most of it.″
Bruen is trying. He may not be as animated as he was before he got the news late last month _ seven years and one day after his father died of colon cancer _ but he is still the same guy. Sort of a poor man’s Rodney Dangerfield, round face, rotund midsection and all. The jokes still fly in rapid-fire succession out the side of his mouth, just like they always have.
``No after-effects at all,″ he said. ``Everything’s fine. Feeling good. They tell me I’m getting better looking every day, so, hey, I may stay on the stuff even after I’m cured.″
Rodney Dangerfield, maybe, save the respect part. Everybody respects the man. It is impossible not to. One only had to look into the crowd of 1,100 who showed up for the game to get an indication of that. Scores of friends and former players had made the trip from all around the Northeast to see how coach was doing.
There was Marc Criqui, captain of the 1990 team, Bruen’s first at Colgate. Criqui was sitting right behind his former mentor, who built Colgate from a laughingstock to a consistently solid program (93-80) that made two NCAA appearances with Foyle, who jumped to the NBA after last season.
``Everybody just loves the guy to death,″ said Criqui, who now works on Wall Street. ``He cares about every guy that plays for him, and not just on the court. He takes an active interest in what you’re doing and makes sure you’re doing well.″
Tim Bollin, a captain last season, was there, too.
``I don’t know how to react,″ Bollin said. ``You just get that empty, pit feeling in your stomach. It kind of blows you away. He’s such a great man. When you think about his family and everything he’s done for you. He was always there for us.″
And they were there for him after the game _ to share a private moment and be the butt of his humor.
``We should have made this alumni weekend,″ said Bruen, who grew up in Manhattan and was a pretty fair point guard at Power Memorial when the center was a fellow named Lew Alcindor. ``It’s nice to see the guys. I knew some of them were coming up, but I didn’t know all these guys were coming.
``It’s probably going to cost me a lot of money. You know, they’ve got a reach impediment. I’m not too happy about that. I’ve got to go to the bank right now and get a cash advance or something. They don’t take credit cards at any of the bars in town, so I’m in big trouble.″
And then it was time to go.
``I’m pacing myself,″ Bruen said. ``The referees are going to like me this season because I can’t get excited, can’t yell too much. And the kids like it because I don’t really get that excited with them.
``But the voice is still strong. As long as the vocal chords hold up, we’re going to be A-OK. And right now they’re hanging in there pretty good.″