Notre Dame men's basketball: Digger has progress on cancer battle

South Bend Tribune

Nothing was going to keep former Notre Dame men's basketball coach Digger Phelps from his annual summer vacation to Europe.

Not even bladder cancer.

Diagnosed earlier this spring, Phelps recently underwent six weeks of daily treatment before heading overseas earlier this month. Everything up to this point has gone smoothly.

"This was not going to stop me," Phelps told the Tribune shortly after his flight from Amsterdam arrived Monday afternoon at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. "It's very simple. They just go right after it."

Having already beaten prostate cancer, Phelps noticed small amounts of blood in his urine last fall. The blood remained periodically through winter. Phelps started feeling more fatigued than usual in March, but he chalked that up to the grind from his work at ESPN during another long college basketball season.

Phelps' annual physical once the season ended detected the bladder cancer.

While Phelps underwent surgery for the prostate cancer, he received outpatient treatment with BCG, a vaccine for tuberculosis. The vaccine helps to scrape any traces of cancer cells -- which form as scabs rather than tumors -- from the lining of Phelps' bladder.

Side effects usually include nausea, where patients feel like they're coming down with the flu. Phelps experienced little or no setbacks of sickness.

"We're fighting it," he said.

Phelps is scheduled Thursday for a checkup. It will determine if he needs another six weeks of BCG treatment, or can start the regular six-week routine of every three months, the first of which would commence in August.

Phelps would prefer the latter, for another trip to Europe -- one that will take him back to the sideline -- awaits.

Prior to his diagnosis, Phelps agreed to coach a 35-and-over men's basketball team that will represent Canada in the 19th-annual Maccabiah Games in Israel. The games feature 8,000 athletes of all ages from 70 countries. They are held every four years in Israel. Opening ceremonies are July 18 in Jerusalem. The games run through July 31.

Phelps agreed to coach thanks to his relationship with fellow ESPN colleague Dan Shulman, a native of Canada and member of the team. Other teams in Canada's bracket include Israel, Russia and the United States.

Phelps, who turns 72 on July 4, is the all-time winningest coach in Notre Dame history with 393 victories over 20 seasons.

Jackson eyes return

Former Irish point guard Tory Jackson spent last winter as the head boys basketball coach of his alma mater, Buena Vista (Mich.) High School in his hometown of Saginaw.

But with the school's future uncertain -- Buena Vista closed for two weeks in May because of financial difficulties and there is no assurance it will reopen in the fall -- Jackson has decided to leave coaching and rekindle his professional playing career.

The 25-year-old Jackson hopes to rejoin the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League this fall. He appeared in 45 games for Fort Wayne in 2011-12 and averaged 7.0 points, 3.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 21.9 minutes a game. He shot 37 percent from the field, 22.2 percent from 3 and 81.5 percent from the free-throw line.

While transitioning to coaching Buena Vista last summer, Jackson's games were relegated to various summer leagues around Michigan, including one church league where he averaged 49.8 points per game, including one contest of 61 points.

Jackson, who graduated Notre Dame in 2010, still holds the school record for career games played with 136.

Staff writer Tom Noie: