Dan Peters stood in the hallway outside the locker room at Rhodes Arena and everyone who walked by gave him a pat on the shoulder.
Sophomore guard Carmelo Betancourt stopped for a full-on hug. A member of the University of Toledo traveling party wished him luck and said, “I’ll be praying for you,” to which Peters responded, “I appreciate it. Good game tonight.”
It was 1:30 p.m., but for Peters it might be twilight.
The 59-year-old University of Akron director of basketball operations was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last month and took a leave of absence. He said he has a 5 percent chance to live. On Wednesday he begins chemotherapy that is scheduled to last six months, if his body can handle it that long.
Saturday he sat on the bench for the first time since Dec. 14 as the Zips lost to Toledo 75-61 in a game televised by ESPNU. He’s spent the past month recuperating from surgery that failed to remove the tumor in his pancreas and complications that caused him to lose nearly 20 pounds, four of which he’s gained back. Before this, the last time players saw Peters was for a few minutes last week at practice.
UA coach Keith Dambrot was so overcome with emotion that he nearly lost it during the national anthem.
“I teared up when I saw him,” Dambrot said. “Before the game I had trouble emotionally. That sounds like I’m immature, but I struggled during the national anthem, during the starting lineups, when I first saw him. When one of your friends is stricken, everything else becomes secondary.”
Peters is facing the longest of odds, but remains amazingly upbeat.
“I get a little anxious because I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Peters said. “But the one thing I would say is whatever happens is OK. I believe God has always taken care of me. I’m in his hands. As much as I would like to live, that may not be the option. I have no regrets. I’m going to try as hard as I can to fight this. I know there have been a lot of people who have been praying and I’m very appreciative. I’m actually in a very good place, I guess.”
Peters seems to have moved past the shock of waking up from surgery at Summa Akron City Hospital and surgeon Gary Williams telling him, wife Nancy and sons Danny and Michael that the tumor couldn’t be taken out because there were too many arteries and veins attached. The plan had been to remove Peters’ spleen and 80 percent of his pancreas.
“The one thing that was never brought up was going in and not being able to remove the tumor,” Peters said. “That was hard. That was very hard.”
Peters worries about chemotherapy, but has told oncologist John Jakobs to be as aggressive as possible.
“I said, ‘Let’s go after this thing,’ ” Peters said. “They’ve had tremendous advances in cancer research, except in [this] one area. They’re using the same drugs they used 20 years ago. But they’re using them in different combinations, maybe with some new drugs. What we’ve got to hope for is the chemo and drugs can kill the tumor or shrink it.”
As dire as that sounds, Peters’ spirits are buoyed by those around him. He’s talked to people he hasn’t heard from in 20 or 30 years. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, whom he worked for at Walsh College and the University of Cincinnati, came to visit in the hospital. So, too, did UA executive vice president Jim Tressel, whom Peters toiled alongside in the same athletic department at Youngstown State and Ohio State.
“Tressel couldn’t get in,” Peters said. “We had so many visitors they had to cut it out. They wouldn’t tell him what room I was in. When he came in and saw my wife he said, ‘Listen, Nancy, I’ve got an ego, too.’
“It’s been so uplifting. It really has. The only time I get really emotional is over the people. It’s not that I have the cancer. I don’t want to accept that, but I have to. The people have just moved me so much.”
The feeling is mutual.
“It was very inspirational to see him up and moving,” UA senior forward Demetrius Treadwell said. “I love that man so much. He’s a real important figure in my life. Seeing him at the game meant a lot.”
Sophomore guard Jake Kretzer added, “I hope if I ever go through something like that I’m as strong as him because he’s super optimistic right now. When we feel sorry for ourselves, think of him.”
Peters had planned to retire in 2015 after 30 years at Ohio universities and look for a coaching job. If that didn’t work out, he was going to spend time at the University of Arizona with son Danny, assistant director of basketball operations under coach Sean Miller.
“We’re going to get to do it,” Peters said of the plan to go to Tucson. “I’m going to try. I just feel like something good is going to happen. I don’t know what.
“I know the chances aren’t real good. I just believe the Lord will take care of me.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.