'One of the great people in our business' dies of cancer at 60

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He fought to the end, laughing at those who suggested he surrender. That is what was said about Dan Peters on the morning after he passed away from the effects of pancreatic cancer.

This was no surprise to those who knew Peters, knew how much he loved life — his life, his family. One of the great challenges was to catch him having a bad day. I knew him for more than two decades. Outside the boundaries of a basketball game in which one of his players made a bad pass or missed a blockout, I never remember him frowning.

“He was one of the great guys, the great people, in our business,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins told Sporting News. “He was, from probably the time I was in my early 20s, my best friend. He was my first hire I ever made as a head coach. I don’t think there were many things, if any, that I didn’t call him and bounce them off him. I knew I was going to get an honest and intelligent answer.”

As recently as three weeks ago, Peters was on the phone to Huggins asking him to send some tapes of West Virginia practices so the two could talk about how the team would develop this season. He told Huggins, “I know they’re telling me I’m dying, but I don’t feel like I’m dying.”

After he was diagnosed last December — pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all forms of the disease — Peters managed to remain positive.

“I get a little anxious because I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Peters told the Akron Beacon-Journal’s Marla Ridenour in January. “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 took a leave of absence from Akron basketball but the team honored him with a “purple-out” at a game in late January. Several programs with which he had close ties — including Cincinnati (where he’d once been an assistant alongside Mick Cronin), West Virginia (where Huggins is head coach) and Arizona (where son Danny is on Sean Miller’s staff) — wore “4 Pete’s Sake” lapel pins during games.

Peters touched pretty much every Ohio state university by coaching against them, but it’s amazing how many he impacted as part of the schools. He earned a degree in social studies from Kent State in 1976. He was an assistant coach at Akron from 1989-81. He was head coach at Youngstown State from 1993-99.

He left the Penguins to join Huggins as an assistant for five seasons, which included the Bearcats’ rise to a No. 1 ranking in 1999-2000. When Thad Matta took over at The Ohio State University, Peters was one of his first hires. He was on the bench for the Buckeyes’ run to the 2007 NCAA Championship game, then joined longtime friend Keith Dambrot on the Akron bench in 2009.

Peters had planned to retire not long after the 2013-14 season with a comfortable state of Ohio pension and enjoy the rest of his years. He would spend more time with his family and scratch the basketball itch working coaching clinics and camps.

That was the plan.

Instead, he spent the past nine months battling cancer. He was presented the U.S. Basketball Writers “Most Courageous” Award at the Zips’ final regular-season game, fittingly against Peters’ alma mater, Kent State.

He promised he would fight, and those who witnessed during that time insist he did, to the very end. He was reminded by all those who’d coached with him, played for him, even coached against him that he was held in great affection. Peters told Ridenour he only got emotional about his illness when he saw how others were reacting. “The people have just moved me so much,” he said.

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