University of Oklahoma assistant women's basketball coach Jan Ross is the winner of the 2013 Carol Eckman Award, the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) announced Wednesday.
The Carol Eckman Award is presented annually to an active WBCA member coach who exemplifies Eckman's spirit, integrity and character through sportsmanship, commitment to the student-athlete, honesty, ethical behavior, courage and dedication to purpose.
Ross was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2012 and battled the devastating news and disease with the passion and veracity that she has exhibited as a coach and mentor to student-athletes for more than two decades.
"In a battle like that, you search for the positives," Ross said. "Whatever positives you can pull out of it, you pull out of it. Being able to inspire and educate through my own personal battle with cancer -- that's a definite positive."
The fight thrust the unassuming assistant into the national spotlight, where Ross has voiced the causes of the late Jim Valvano and Kay Yow, and the women's basketball community at large, in spreading awareness about the disease and promoting early detection.
"Being a spiritual person, I've always tried to be a good role model. Fighting breast cancer just gave me a chance to show our team that if you do things right, everything will be OK. Regardless of the outcome, do things right."
Ross is now cancer free and completes regularly-scheduled checkups.
"It's an honor to receive any recognition from the WBCA, our professional organization," Ross said. "I know how they work, since Sherri Coale was a past president, and I know how hard they work for women's basketball."
The award is named in honor of the late Carol Eckman, the former West Chester State College coach, who is considered the "Mother of the Women's Collegiate Basketball Championship." Eckman organized the first women's basketball championship at West Chester in 1969 and continued to garner recognition and support for the women's game until her death from cancer in 1985.
"Congratulations to Jan on being selected as the Carol Eckman Award recipient," WBCA CEO Beth Bass said. "Your commitment to women's basketball has been exceptional and you have done an astounding job in encouraging young women to have a deeper appreciation for the game.
In her 17 seasons at OU, the Sooners have won six Big 12 Conference regular-season titles, four Big 12 tournament championships and advanced to 13 consecutive NCAA tournaments, including appearances in the 2002 National Championship game and back-to-back national semifinal games in 2009 and 2010. The Sooners have also produced 12 All-America selections.
In addition to Ross' coaching duties, she has played a major role in the academic progress of women's basketball student-athletes. Oklahoma has produced four Academic All-Americans, 92 Academic All-Big 12 selections and posted a team grade point average of 3.0 or better in 27 of the last 33 semesters.
Ross also coordinates the community service efforts of the team. Most notably, she was the facilitator for taking a group of staff and players on a mission trip to Haiti via a local church following a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck the tiny island in January 2010, killing more than 300,000 and leaving more than one million homeless. The group traveled to the Mission of Hope in Titanyen, which houses a hospital, schoolhouse and orphanage for many of the children left without parents, and will return for a fourth visit in May 2013. In December 2011, the program was recognized with an Inaugural United Nations NGO Positive Peace Award for its humanitarian efforts.
Past recipients of the Carol Eckman Award include Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw (2009), former Texas Tech head coach Marsha Sharp (2003), Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer (with Iowa in 1993) and the late Kay Yow (1988).
Ross will be formally recognized during the third annual WBCA Awards Show, which will be held at 5 p.m. CT Monday, April 8, in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center's New Orleans Theater. This event is part of the WBCA National Convention and is held in conjunction with the NCAA Women's Final Four in New Orleans.