UK basketball notebook

Krebs family aims to stay strong together

Mother's battle with cancer gives guard different perspective on life

Herald-Leader Staff WriterOctober 18, 2009 

Kentucky basketball means a lot of things to a lot of people. For senior guard Mark Krebs, it is an escape.

It's a respite from thinking about his mother's ongoing battle with cancer.

"It's on my mind a lot," Krebs said during UK's Media Day on Thursday. "I wonder how she's doing. Is she all right today? Does she have chemo today? How are her blood counts doing?"

The UK player spoke admiringly of his mother's spirit. "She's definitely a fighter," he said.

When she turned 40 eight years ago, Terri Krebs thought it was time for a checkup. The diagnosis of breast cancer floored her. Her doctor gave her six to nine months to live.

"I cried," Terri said. "I just wanted to keep the house and keep the kids in Catholic education. And I did it."

Besides Markie, the name Terri uses for her older son, the Krebs have a daughter, Mandy, 27, and a son, Andrew, 18, a freshman at UK.

When talking about her initial reaction to hearing she probably would not live more than nine months, Terri's voice cracked.

"Just what I was going to miss," she said. "And I have a big family. We all are really close. So that really helped. I knew, even if I died, (her children) would be loved."

Terri, now 48, continues to live. But it's getting progressively harder for her and her family.

"The first six years, she was the normal, good ol' mom," Krebs said. "The last couple years, it's tough to see her suffer."

His mother has undergone more than 340 chemotherapy treatments since the diagnosis. In the last six months, she's had two surgeries.

"I never hated cancer till July," she said. In January, doctors declared that her spine was free of cancer. By July, the breast cancer had spread to her bones, lungs and liver.

"It's terminal cancer," Krebs said. "There's no remission in sight."

By July, Terri grew too weak to stand. She's confined to a wheelchair.

"I'm used to being a take-control kind of girl," she said. "Now I have to wait for people to do for me. It's awful."

Krebs and his mother form a mutual-admiration tandem. He admires her fight and determination not to let cancer consume her thoughts.

She admires her son's devotion to her. He calls several times a day and always before he goes to sleep. She also is proud of his competitiveness.

Upon graduating from Newport Catholic, he attended Thomas More College to stay nearby.

Krebs, whose father was a longtime high school coach, decided to transfer to UK and attempt to walk on to the basketball team the next year.

"We thought he was kind of crazy," Terri said. "... He said, 'Five years from now, I don't want to sit back and say I wish I tried this. I just want to do it and then, no regrets.' "

Terri recalled dropping her son off at Haggin Hall in 2006. "He sat on a bench in front of Haggin Hall saying, 'I don't know if I want to cry or throw up,' " she said.

In his three UK seasons, Krebs has had to prove himself to three coaches: Tubby Smith, Billy Gillispie and now John Calipari.

A crowning moment came this summer when Calipari awarded Krebs a scholarship.

Terri recalled her son calling and saying, "Mom, I'm so excited, I'm peeing nickels."

The scholarship helped ease Terri's guilt about the money spent on her cancer treatments. It also helps lessen the loans, already totalling as much as $60,000, that Krebs will have to repay.

It's not an entirely sad story, Krebs said. His mother's cancer united the family. It gave the family perspective. "You don't sweat the small stuff in life," he said.

His mother soldiers on, holding on tight to reasons to live. One was the birth of her first grandchild in March.

When asked about her future, Terri's voice cracked again. "It's not good," she said. "I just take it one day at a time."

Her Catholic faith does not remove the fear of death.

"I'm scared," she said. "If anybody says they're not, they're crazy. Everybody is."

Meanwhile, she continues to look for reasons to live. She has her next goal in mind.

"Senior Night," she said brightly.

SEC predictions

The Southeastern Conference asked 30 media members to vote for a pre-season all-league team, player of the year, predicted order of finish and regular-season champion. The voting group included two who cover each of the 12 league teams, plus six national media types.

The SEC will announce results on Monday.

Here's my ballot with comments:

Eastern Division:

1. Kentucky

2. Vanderbilt

3. South Carolina

4. Tennessee

5. Florida

6. Georgia

Comment: A case could be made for any of the top four winning the division. Kentucky's talent, Vandy's talent and experience, South Carolina's all-league point guard and Tennessee's talent, experience and recent winning tradition. Why Kentucky? The division's deepest talent pool prevails.

Western Division:

1. Mississippi State

2. Mississippi

3. Arkansas

4. Alabama

5. Louisiana State

6. Auburn

Comment: Mississippi State and Ole Miss clearly top the division. Thereafter, it's a grab-bag.

All-SEC team:

G: John Wall, Kentucky

G: Terrico White, Mississippi

G: Devan Downey, South Carolina

F: Patrick Patterson, Kentucky

C: Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State

Comment: Varnado, Patterson, Downey and White were easy to pick. What wasn't easy was a vote for Wall, who hasn't played a minute yet. But it's impossible to ignore projections of being the first player taken in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Apologies to Tyler Smith of Tennessee, Tasmin Mitchell of LSU, A.J. Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal of Vandy, Chris Warren of Ole Miss and Trey Thompkins of Georgia.

Regular-season champion: Mississippi State

Comment: After originally sending a ballot with Kentucky as champ, second thoughts led to a switch to Mississippi State.

Why?

UK and Mississippi State play in Starkville this season. Plus, if the Eastern Division is better, State has to play those teams only once. UK gets one game each against the weaker Western Division.

If that's not enough, State returns all five starters from a team that won the SEC Tournament last March.

Player of the Year: Varnado.

Comment: This is partly a make-up call for last season, when his exclusion from player-of-the-year conversations was a crime. Not that he should have won the award, but he should have been in the discussion.

Varnado's impact on defense is not less significant to a game's outcome than a big scorer. And he certainly passes the eyeball test. In his last two games against Kentucky, he had 17 blocks and 24 rebounds.

Donovan honored

Florida Coach Billy Donovan will receive the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award in 2010, Wooden Award chairman Duke Llewellyn announced on Wednesday, which happened to be Wooden's 99th birthday.

Donovan will follow such previous award winners as Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Lute Olson, Roy Williams and Denny Crum.

The award winners exemplify Wooden's coaching success and personal integrity, the award announcement said. The award is based on victories, graduation rate of players and coaching philosophy.

Donovan has compiled a 13-season record at Florida of 310-126. He's amassed 11 straight 20-victory seasons, plus became the first coach in 15 seasons to win back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007.

Words of Wooden

In honor of John Wooden's 99th birthday, the Los Angeles Times published 99 factoids about the former UCLA coach.

One, in particular, seemed appropriate for a UK roster studded with would-be stars. It was a quote:

"The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team."

Congratulations

To senior Ramon Harris. He became a father with the birth of a daughter, Aubree, on July 19.

"She's real laid back like me," Harris said. "She doesn't cry a whole lot."

Both sets of grandparents live in the Lexington area, which means expert advice and a handy baby sitting service.

"They really help a lot," Harris said. "That takes a lot of the stress off."

Hail, Hayes

After an exhibition-game victory over the Toronto Raptors on Thursday, Houston Rockets Coach Rick Adelman volunteered the team's key player: former UK star Chuck Hayes.

"The biggest guy was Chuck," Adelman said, according to a game story in the Houston Chronicle. "I put Chuck in the game in the third quarter to guard (Chris) Bosh, and he's our best defender, not only guarding Bosh, but suddenly the pick-and-rolls were not going so easily for them. He's such a tough guy for us, when we don't have him in the game, our defense isn't half as good."

Bosh had 13 points in the game's first 16 minutes. He did not score in the nine minutes he was defended by Hayes.

Overall, Toronto made seven of 23 shots (30.4 percent) when Hayes was on the floor. Otherwise, the Raptors made 38 of 67 (56.7 percent).

'Three Amigos'

Heralded freshmen Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall answer to the nickname "The Three Amigos."

But a playful DeAndre Liggins had another nickname in mind.

"He said, 'The Three Stooges,' " a smiling Wall said.

Tickets available

Two lower-arena season tickets are the prize in a raffle to benefit Lexington Catholic High School.

The drawing will be held at halftime of Lexington Catholic's football game against Trinity on Oct. 30. Raffle tickets, which cost $20 each, will be sold until the start of the game.

To buy raffle tickets, fans can check LexingtonCatholic.com or contact Mindy Towles at (859) 277-7183 ext. 253 or mtowles@lexingtoncatholic.com.

Happy birthday

To Matt Scherbenske. The former UK walk-on turned 22 on Wednesday.

Swept away in new coach John Calipari's purge of walk-ons, Scherbenske continues to live in Wildcat Lodge and attend UK. He expects to graduate in May.

Scherbenske hopes to go into coaching. The UK staff and his former coach at Oak Hill Academy, Steve Smith, offered to be references when he applies for a graduate assistant's position.

Why coaching?

It's the next best thing to continuing to play. Plus, it's a way to remain in basketball and affect lives.

Scherbenske celebrated his birthday with a home-cooked meal at his parents' Lexington home and an ice cream cake.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com.

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