By Jonah Bronstein
Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Purple Eagles have lost one of their most loyal and resilient supporters.
Dolores Mihalich, the mother of men's basketball coach Joe Mihalich, died Wednesday after a nine-year battle with cancer. She was 88.
When she was first diagnosed with colon cancer in December 2003, doctors told Dolores Mihalich she had less than a year to live. Even as the cancer spread to her liver, she continued to beat the odds, surviving long enough to see her son realize his dream of coaching Niagara into the NCAA tournament in 2005. She was behind the bench when the Purple Eagles repeated the feat in 2007, and again in 2009 when they set the a modern record for wins and went to the NIT.
"She loved Niagara basketball and she loved Niagara University," Joe Mihalich said. "She answered the phone every day with, "Go Purple Eagles.'"
Joe Mihalich, the oldest of six siblings, has been traveling back and forth between Philadelphia and Western New York this week, spending as much time with his family as he can while preparing the Purple Eagles to play Little 3 rival St. Bonaventure today (2 p.m., WGR 550 AM) in Rochester.
"In some respects, it's the easiest thing to do because she wouldn't want it any other way," Mihalich said. "She wouldn't want anyone sitting around feeling sorry for her and she cares about this team. She wouldn't want this team not to be at full strength."
A hospice caregiver told Mihalich recently that his mother's positive spirit had waned and she was losing interest in most daily activities.
"They asked her what she was still interested in," he said, "and she told them, 'my kids and Niagara basketball.'"
Mihalich said he has received an outpouring of support from former Niagara players and coaches and their relatives.
"It makes you feel good that they understand family," he said. "My mother made sure my priorities were in order: God, family, school and basketball. I know Niagara University teaches family and it's awesome to know that I've been able to teach them about family."
"He preaches about family first. It goes a lot deeper than just playing for a basketball program, or a championship team," said 2009 graduate and third all-time leading scorer Tyrone Lewis. "When my grandmother passed away two years ago, Coach Mihalich was one of the first people to reach out to me and my mother."
Lewis, who is now an assistant coach at Division III Widner (Pa.) Univesity said he could always spot the Mihalich matriarch in the crowd, and it affected his play.
"She always had that big purple jacket and the purple hat on," Lewis said. "Whenever she showed up for a game, if she was there, it was a game we wanted to win and I believe we won most of the games she was there."