PITTSBURGH — When Lance White had just been hired to be the Pitt women’s basketball coach, he wanted to get an honest assessment of the job at hand from someone that had been in his shoes. There was one phone call in particular he knew to make.
That call went to Agnus Berenato, who coached the team from 2003-13 and made back-to-back Sweet 16s in 2008 and 2009, currently the high-water mark of the program.
“She was one of the first calls I made just because she was successful here in addition to having the wisdom and knowledge of what it would take to get this program where it needs to go,” White said at the NABC Coaches vs. Cancer charity gala on Tuesday. “She gave me a pretty good idea of what I needed to do right away.”
The event was an appropriate forum to discuss the former Pitt coach. She is the current Kennesaw State women’s basketball coach, but those responsibilities have been put on hold due to a battle with breast cancer.
“I am now a statistic and will do whatever it takes to beat this disease,” she said in a press release. “My mother and brother passed from cancer and I have a sister who is a breast cancer survivor. The treatment is so good and the cure rate is so high. I am ready to fight. I have been an advocate for cancer patients my entire life, and will continue to educate the young ladies I coach about this terrible disease.”
Berenato has not just been on White’s mind lately. Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt always enjoys the month of July, and one big reason for that are his conversations about Berenato dealing with the pair’s shared love of traveling. This past summer, Burt was discussing Croatia, since Berenato had yet to visit and was curious about the country in all facets.
“We really have personalities that click,” he said. “We talk about where we are going to take our families on vacation and both have a love for traveling to Europe. It was pretty upsetting to hear about what happened, when I did a couple of weeks ago.”
Burt reached out privately to Berenato and following the team’s first official practice, many of the Duquesne players recorded a video message at half court.
“If there’s anybody that is going to get through it with a positive perspective and be healed with positivity, it’s Agnus Berenato,” said Burt.
Charlie Buscaglia also had opportunities to engage with Berenato as the Robert Morris women’s basketball coach would participate in events in which the pair had opportunities to have sit-down discussions.
“My heart goes out to her and I’ll be praying for her,” Buscaglia said. “If I had words of encouragement it would be to just keep fighting, keep positive and know that things can be overcome.”
Berenato’s personality is often one which lights up a room. There is always a guest coach present at home games, and often times at Pitt, both she and her players would high five anyone in the press conference room following a game. The game’s outcome never mattered, the approach was consistent and only after high-fives were exchanged, would everyone take the podium and the press conference commence.
Her presence at Pitt is still felt as Ann Marie Porada has been the team’s athletic trainer since 2009, Meghan Bielich who also was on Berenato’s staff was brought back this offseason to be the director of video and creative contest and Terri Mitchell previously coached Marquette and frequently did battle against Berenato’s Pitt teams when both were in the Big East.
At Tuesday night’s Coaches vs Cancer Event, the trio of current Pittsburgh head coaches all agreed that Berenato can and will beat breast cancer.
“Agnus’s voice, bubbly and almost over the top enthusiasm and zest for life are what you always think of,” said Burt. “The disease can happen to anyone, the cure doesn’t happen for everyone. I think anytime you have any type of disease, but specifically cancer, you have to treat it how the medical team wants to. On top of that, you have to have a glass half-full attitude and it can only benefit you. For that reason, I know Agnus will be fine.”
The Coaches vs Cancer events are all about bringing coaches, teams and communities together in the fight against cancer in a variety of ways.
“Every person you talk to has been affected by cancer, for us as a coaching world to be involved in helping to raise and give money to hopefully find a cure is huge,” White said. “From my parents, friends and Agnus of course, you can go down the line.”