ST. GEORGE — Larry Cain put up some respectable numbers as a basketball player at Ben Lomond High and the University of Utah. The stats, though, pale in comparison to what he’s done as a physician.
Cain, who specializes in family medicine, has delivered more than 2,000 babies in his career.
As for the tie between basketball and a career as a physician, Cain credits participation at the collegiate level for his getting to know people in the medical profession.
Cain, a 6-foot-9 center who played for the Utes from 1990-93, has always been good in school and progressed through the process after being the first person from his family to graduate from college. Connections made through basketball encouraged him to reach even higher.
One of them was Utah coach Rick Majerus.
Former teammate Jimmy Soto recalled Majerus often saying so at practice.
“He was like, ‘This guy is going to cure cancer.’ That was the thing about Larry. He would say that all the time about Cain. ‘One day he is going to cure cancer,'” Soto said. “Larry was always dialed in. He knew what he was going to do.”
Although Cain had always thought about pursuing a career in medicine, he almost took a different path. After serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tampa, Florida, and then getting married at a young age, the reality of how long it would take to become a physician led to some thoughtful reflection. Medical school and residency, after all, would take a long time to complete.
“So I looked for something that was sort of an alternative for that, that would help me with my love for science and such,” Cain said. “Pharmacy school seemed to fit the bill. It wouldn’t take as long.”
Following Cain’s sophomore year at Utah, he applied to the pharmacy school, and spoke with them about fitting it in with his basketball schedule. A day later came the team’s individual season-ending interviews with Majerus. He asked Cain about wanting to become a physician.
“I said: ‘Well you know it’s going to take a long time and it’s going to be a lot of hard work and I don’t know if I want to do that. So I think I want to go to pharmacy school,'” Cain explained. “And he said that he thought I should become a physician. He challenged me to go meet with his heart surgeon (Dr. Kent Jones), to go meet with other doctors, go talk to more pharmacists. Then come back in six weeks and tell him why I’d rather be a pharmacist than a doctor.”
Majerus promised Cain he would never bring it up again after that. Cain did the things Majerus asked — even observing a heart surgery — and returned with a resolve not be afraid to fail.
“There was a chance I wouldn’t get into medical school. It’s competitive,” Cain said. “And I should always strive to reach the top of my potential.”
Cain, in consultation with his wife Misti, chose to turn down the pharmacy school offer a few weeks later and pursued becoming a doctor instead.
Majerus remained steadfast through it all. Cain has no regrets about the decision.
“I’m very happy as a physician. I get to learn new things every day and serve people and it’s challenging,” Cain said. “I think without challenges you don’t grow.”
Looking back, Cain noted that his relationship with Majerus was very positive. So much so, that he was able to look past some of his coach’s direct and sometimes derogatory remarks that followed poor performances. Cain insists he understood what Majerus really meant. It was all about having him try to do better.
Cain wasn’t recruited by Majerus. He originally committed to Lynn Archibald following a stellar prep career — helping the Scots win a state championship. Following one season as a redshirt, Cain departed to serve a church mission. As his service neared completion, Cain wrote letters to Archibald. They went unanswered until an overnight letter arrived in April 1990. Archibald told Cain he was looking forward to his return.
One week later, Archibald was fired.
Once Majerus was hired, Cain wrote the new coach and was even allowed to call him since the missionary’s release date was in June. Majerus said he had a couple of faults — too much swearing and too much pizza.
Cain joked that Majerus made good on both during his tenure. Despite being teased about his lack of weight at times, Cain enjoyed playing basketball. It’s how he put himself through college.
At Utah, Cain went from averaging 1.1 points and 1.1 rebounds as a freshman to 8.5 points and 5.2 rebounds as a senior. He wound up being the team’s starting center.
Cain earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and went on to graduate from the University of Utah Medical School. He did his residency in Pocatello, Idaho, before moving to St. George, where he has worked ever since. It’s a place where he’ll likely retire.
“Probably so,” Cain said. “Once that red sand gets in your toes it's hard to get out. You can’t shovel sunshine.”
The busy doctor, husband and father of four daughters (Eleanor, Alexandria, Lauren and Anna) admits he doesn’t follow the Utes as closely as he would like to these days.
“But I still keep an eye on them,” said Cain, who has made occasional visits back over the years. He even has a nice watch to prove it.
Last October, ex-teammate Josh Grant called and asked him to play on a Utah team in the Huntsman World Senior Games. Cain had just turned 50 and was eligible to participate. The guys wound up finishing second. Cain had not picked up a basketball for some time, but told Grant he was still really tall and could stand with his hands up high.
In reflection, Cain said he’s proud of his accomplishments as a basketball player and as a doctor. He added that they were both really challenging in different ways.
Even so, Cain acknowledged it took more endurance and hard work to become a physician.