SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -The phone rang at 4:45 a.m.
Don Meyer was glad to hear it - glad, that is, to be able to hear it.
It rang in a hospital room, 200 miles from the gym where Meyer's Northern State basketball team was going to practice that day without him.
Thirty-six years into his coaching career, and just 12 wins from passing Bob Knight as the NCAA's winningest basketball coach, Meyer was - and is - still recovering from a devastating car accident. Doctors haven't even begun to treat other serious health issues.
He speaks confidently of returning to his Division II team this season but is candid about the uncertainty.
``Obviously I'd like to be there for our first home exhibition game'' Saturday against Black Hills State, he said in an interview at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls.
e on just doing my job here. That's the best way I can help the team right now.''
Meyer has been hospitalized since Sept. 5 when his team left campus in Aberdeen for an annual weekend retreat to start the school year. With Meyer traveling alone, his car crossed the centerline into the path of an oncoming truck loaded with grain. A Highway Patrol investigation concluded that he either was distracted or fell asleep.
``I thought he was gone,'' said senior forward Kevin Ratzsch, who was riding several vehicles back.
The truck struck two other cars in the caravan. A third car went in the ditch. No one else was hurt.
In multiple operations that followed, doctors removed Meyer's spleen, repaired broken ribs and tried to mend a badly mangled left leg. Two weeks after the accident, they amputated his left leg below the knee.
They also found something no one knew anything about before the crash - cancer in Meyer's liver and small intestine.
The cancer - a slow-growing form - is a secondary issue yet to be addressed. Immediate concerns are lung problems and controlling infections from the amputation.
``We're so fortunate that no one else was injured, and then we never would have found out about the cancer if they hadn't gone in to look at everything else,'' Meyer said. ``We're very, very fortunate that the Lord was looking over all of us.''
ergoes three hours of occupational therapy and physical therapy daily. He does strength exercises and cardiovascular work. He's learning how to navigate in a wheelchair or walker, how to balance without a lower leg and perform ordinary tasks like dressing, shaving and brushing teeth.
He appears tired and his voice is weaker after a therapy session.
``It's just like practicing, only I'm a player,'' he said. ``I've got to learn enough about it so when I go home I can coach myself.''
A coaching career that's taken him to Hamline University in Minnesota, Lipscomb University in Tennessee and Northern State in 1999 has given him 891 career wins, the most for an active coach and second only to the 902 career wins by Knight.
``You don't realize how much these kids take pride in being part of that. I never realized until I looked at some of the pictures of some of the Northern kids when we broke (Dean) Smith's record or when we got 800 wins,'' he said. ``And I know the kids in Nashville feel the same way, the kids at Lipscomb. They're wanting to see it broken.''
Meyer is still Northern State's head coach, and athletic director Bob Olson said the NCAA leaves it to each institution to decide in situations such as this whether the coach is credited with wins and losses. He said NSU will count this year's victories in Meyer's record.
and practices. It was Baruth who made the early morning call to talk with Meyer before the first 5:30 a.m. practice of the year.
``That meant a lot to Don. They're keeping him involved even though he's down here,'' said his wife, Carmen Meyer.
Baruth and coach Meyer talk several times daily. Videotapes of practice will go to Meyer for review.
``I've learned a lot about 'f' words - faith, family, friends, fitness, finances,'' he said. ``All of those come into play here, but most of all faith and family and friends. That's how I'm going to get my fitness. That's how I'm going to have a chance to go home and keep providing for my family.''
Senior guard Kyle Schwan said his hospital visits have revealed a coach who lives the lessons he teaches.
``He talks about concepts like: 'Don't ask why me, ask what now? Adapt, improvise, overcome. You can judge a man by how he responds to a challenge.'
``All these lessons he's been preaching to us and now they are coming back and we're seeing them in action,'' Schwan said.
Carmen Meyer said her husband of 41 years has experienced only one gloomy day during his recovery.
``He has never gotten out of the teaching or coaching mode since he's been in the hospital,'' she said. ``It's been really a good experience for him, one that you'd hope you wouldn't have to go through, but since we're here he's making the best of it.''
ar assistant, said he sees bits of a new coach and the former coach since the accident.
``He shares with me how he feels about his wife and his kids very openly, and also tells me how I need to be sure to love my wife and when I start having children how I need to treat them,'' Baruth said.
``I think his overall philosophy has changed, but definitely when you're looking in his eyes and talking business there's that look that 'I want back on the court and all hell is going to break loose again' and there is definitely that twinkle in the eye, that look in the eye that 'Hey, I'm not done, I've got a lot to do yet.'
``That part hasn't changed much.''

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