By Dave Wagner
Eastern New Mexico University women’s basketball coach Dan Buzard is in the middle of radiation and chemotherapy treatments in Albuquerque after he was found to have a cancerous brain tumor in late July, but he knows it’ll probably be a while before he’s able to return to the sideline.
With that in mind, his team plans to visit him this weekend at his in-laws’ home in Albuquerque.
Assistant coach Dustin Klafka, the acting head coach in Buzard’s absence, said it was the players’ idea.
“(It was) our kids’ decision without me saying anything, that they were going to go up and see him this Saturday, shows they’re thinking as a team,” Klafka said. “And it shows they care.”
The Zias, who went 16-12 in 2003-04 and were in contention for the Lone Star Conference South Division title until the final weekend, have begun preseason conditioning drills. Klafka said he’s prepared to be in charge as long as necessary.
“We’re just praying that he gets back for the season,” ENMU senior Mika Robertson said of Buzard. “Of course, we know that may not happen, but we know he’s a strong person. He’ll get through it, and we’ll be a stronger team because of it.”
Former ENMU women’s coach Wayne Moore helps out as needed, and grad assistant Haley Anderson and student assistant Sharon Max are also on hand.
“We’re just kind of playing it by ear,” Klafka said. “Wayne’s the designated assistant for now. As soon as Dan can be back, we’ll go back to normal.”
Klafka said the Zias work on weights and conditioning around 6:30 a.m. each day, then bring in small groups for sessions during the afternoon. The NCAA does not allow more than four players at a time to participate in basketball activity prior to the start of practice on Oct. 15.
“We’re doing really good as far as preseason goes,” Robertson said. “Everyone’s working hard and making their times.”
Buzard is anxious to get back, but knows it’s probably going to be a slow process.
“I feel good,” he said Sunday. “As far as the cancer and tumor and things like that, I’m feeling pretty strong. My oncologist said I need to start walking a little bit to keep my strength up as much as I can.”
He’s had about three weeks worth of five-times-a-week treatments, with roughly four weeks to go.
“I’m planning to be home, hopefully, as soon as all the treatments are done, but they may want to do some followup stuff after I get done with the radiation,” Buzard said. “I just want to be as healthy as I can be after I get back.”