Illinois coach recovering quickly

By Amber Greviskes

Editor’s note: All interviews were conducted by telephone.

Illinois associate head coach Brad Dancer is recovering in a California hospital today, after avoiding a near head-on collision this weekend.

“He’s going to take time to heal,” said Illinois head coach Craig Tiley. “But he’s responded well.”

Dancer and Illinois athletes Pramod Dabir and Andrew Eklov were en route to the Napa Valley Invitational when a pickup truck veered into their lane.

“We thought he was going to pass us,” Dabir, a junior said. “But he didn’t slow down.”

Dancer responded.

He steered the minivan he was driving to avoid a direct head-on collision, which might have helped keep the athletes’ injuries to a minimum.

Both Dabir and Eklov, as well as the other driver, were treated at a local hospital and released.

Dancer wasn’t as fortunate.

The newly hired associate head coach, who was prepared to make his debut with the Illini this weekend, suffered internal injuries. Dancer had his spleen removed and is also recovering from bruised lungs. He was extracted from the minivan with the Jaws of Life, Illinois junior Ryler DeHeart said. The Jaws of Life is a tool used to extract accident victims who are trapped inside vehicles.

Increasing the team’s concern and complicating the accident was the poor cell phone reception the men had in the area.

Tiley and the athletes traveling in his car received a “hysterical” call from Eklov, DeHeart said. Eklov phoned to inform them of the accident.

DeHeart said the next 20 minutes were the longest of his life.

“We thought the worst,” DeHeart said. “We were really scared.”

When Tiley, DeHeart and the rest of the men Tiley was driving arrived at the scene, lights were flashing and Dancer was being airlifted to Queen of the Valley Hospital, DeHeart said.

Dabir had already been transported to a local hospital. Eklov and the driver of the other vehicle were being transported to a local hospital too, DeHeart said.

“It definitely made an impact on the team,” Tiley said.

DeHeart agreed.

“Everyone was really shaken up and we realized that tennis really isn’t the most important thing,” he said. “The experience was a tragic one, but I think I’ll take some positives away from it.”

On Friday, Illinois senior Chris Martin said the team’s “thoughts and prayers” were with Dancer while the men tried to focus on competing on the tennis courts. Several men were too shaken up to play.

Although several individuals had visited Dancer before, the entire team went to the hospital on Sunday. Dancer was taken out of the intensive care unit that day.

“It was tough seeing him in a helpless state,” Martin said. But he said he felt Dancer appreciated being able to see the team.

Although rehabilitation and recovery will take a while – approximately four to six weeks, according to the medical encyclopedia of the U.S. National Library of Medicine) – many of the Illini are confident Dancer will return to Champaign and coaching soon.

When the team left Champaign for the Napa Valley Invitational, Dancer made sure the men had goals for each day.

When Dancer got out of surgery, he was more concerned with the team than with his health.

According to Martin, Dancer said, “Craig, we forgot to go over the guys’ goals for the day.”

Dancer’s dedication to the team has continued throughout his stay at Queen of the Valley hospital.

“All he wanted to know was how our tennis was going,” DeHeart said. “The accident probably brought us closer together. It creates a bond between us.”