Former Memphis women’s basketball coach Joye Lee-McNelis fights cancer

Backing down from a challenge has never been in Joye Lee-McNelis’ DNA. She cherishes a fight. Tell her she can’t do something and then step back and watch her do all in her power to prove you’ve misjudged her.

The former, successful University of Memphis women’s basketball coach – the last to take the program to the NCAA Tournament – finds herself in another fight, perhaps the most difficult of her life. Cancer, which she defeated several years ago, has returned, attempting to disrupt the non-stop schedule of a college coach, mother and grandmother.

“Only God knows when I’m going to leave this world,” Lee-McNelis said. “The medication I’m on is going to determine what the next step is going to be, how it’s going to treat the cancer. It’s just an unknown.”

A scrappy guard in college at Southern Miss and one of the program’s first 1,000-point scorers, Lee-McNelis was a fast-rising assistant coach at Southwest Texas State in the mid-1980s and, in short order, an accomplished head coach at Memphis. She spent 13 years at the U of M after serving as an assistant at her alma mater from 1986 to ‘91.

She has spent the past 17 seasons coaching the Southern Miss women’s basketball team. Her next victory will give her 500 career wins.