Austin Peay's NCAA Tournament run a respite for Loos family

Updated Mar. 5, 2020 12:13 a.m. EST

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Dave Loos is a fidgeter by nature, having what he calls a ''nervous itch.'' Stuck in Tennessee while his young granddaughter went through hours of surgery in New York for a rare cancer, the Austin Peay coach stayed busy walking the floors at his hotel.

Loos didn't want to bug his son, so he let Brad call with updates.

''There was a lot of pacing, just trying to trick myself into passing time, to be honest,'' Loos said.

Loos would have been at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center except Rhyan's surgery took place March 2, the same day the Governors tipped off their first game in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. Hours after getting word that the surgery went as well as expected, No. 8 seed Austin Peay took the court and upset No. 5 seed Tennessee Tech for the first step in an amazing whirlwind.


Austin Peay - the lowest seed in the tournament - won four games in as many days to win the OVC's automatic NCAA Tournament berth. The timing couldn't have been much better, as the Govs clinched the final on Loos' 69th birthday, with Rhyan watching on TV from her bed in the pediatric intensive care unit.

''It was a really great week,'' Loos said.

Basketball has given both Loos and his son Brad, a Missouri assistant coach, an escape since Rhyan was diagnosed in October. The second of three children, Rhyan had an occasional limp, showed mood swings and wasn't excited about kindergarten. The cancer diagnosis came Oct. 6, and doctors specified it as neuroblastoma on Oct. 9.

''Initially, what we thought was a pulled muscle, then we thought it was arthritis,'' Brad said. ''One thing led to another and next thing you find out is it's cancer. It was kind of a bombshell.''

This was the second time within four months that a Loos granddaughter had been ill. Dave Jr.'s daughter, Olivia, had bleeding on the brain last July that required surgery to ease pressure.

''It's been kind of a rough year without question, but you deal with it one day at a time,'' the elder Loos said. ''Fortunately, Olivia's situation we were able to get that settled. ... You just keep battling every day, and that's what we've done.''

With teams allowed to practice five times in a seven-day span during October, the Austin Peay coach squeezed in practices so he and his wife, Phyllis, could drive 7 hours to Columbia, Missouri, to be with their son and help his wife, Jen, with their three children. Over the past few months, Rhyan went through five chemotherapy sessions before undergoing surgery.

Brad Loos credits his boss, Missouri coach Kim Anderson, for allowing him to focus on his family. Practice offered him a much-needed break from reality two hours a day.

The ties between Anderson and the Loos family go back a few years. Brad Loos was Anderson's assistant at Central Missouri, and Dave Loos scheduled exhibitions between his Governors and the Division II team.

Missouri also helped raise $50,000 on Feb. 13 in a game against Tennessee with a ''Rally For Rhyan'' to support research for pediatric cancer.

Word that Rhyan's surgery went well came five hours before the Governors started their OVC tournament run with the phrase ''Rally for Rhyan'' on the back of their warmup jackets. They trounced Tennessee Tech 94-72, rallied from 19 points down the next night to beat Tennessee State and then went to overtime to knock off regular-season champ Belmont 97-96. Brad watched the first two games on the Internet and saw the semifinal on TV.

''Sitting in a hospital room all day, any kind of distraction is good,'' Brad Loos said. ''It gave us something to look forward to, something to get excited about each day.''

That win convinced Dave Loos that his Governors could beat almost anyone. In the title game, Austin Peay took the lead for good with a 19-2 run as the Governors hit a season-high 16 3-pointers to raise their record above .500 for the first time all season. Rhyan watched with her father from the hospital, getting a kick out of seeing her cousins and her grandfather on TV.

''She thought that was just the coolest thing in the world,'' her father said.

Now the Governors (18-17) await their seeding, likely a game in Dayton, Ohio. Rhyan, who turned 6 on Tuesday, faces a sixth round of chemotherapy before the next stage of treatment. Austin Peay's next game could be Dave Loos' last because his contract is expiring. Yes, he has a young group of players returning and is 409-390 in 26 seasons at Austin Peay, but he went 40-83 the previous four seasons.

''You take it day by day,'' Dave Loos said.

That's the approach that's gotten the Loos family through the past few months.



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