Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Pitino's condition not life-threatening



By ERIC CRAWFORD
The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal

LOUISVILLE - One day after taking a leave of absence from the University of Louisville basketball team, coach Rick Pitino said Tuesday that his medical condition is "not a cancer-related or life-threatening matter" and that he hopes to resume coaching before Saturday's game against Marquette in Freedom Hall.

However, in a brief statement issued through the university sports information office, he offered no indication of the nature of his illness.

Pitino checked himself into the Cleveland Clinic Tuesday morning in search of answers and peace of mind concerning what he called a "urological related" pain in his left side that had afflicted him since August.

Pitino's statement said that he underwent a battery of tests at the clinic. U of L sports information director Kenny Klein said that he had no further details and that the coach still didn't know a specific timetable for his release.

Klein said Pitino would not answer questions about his treatment or condition, and Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Marion Moseley said Pitino requested that no further information be released to the media.

In a hastily called news conference Monday afternoon, Pitino announced that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence to "get to the bottom" of the pain in his left side that he said caused him pain so excruciating that it had made it "almost unbearable to coach."

Given the speedy nature of Pitino's assertion that his condition is not life-threatening, The Courier-Journal asked U of L officials whether Tuesday's update represented a new development or a clarification of his Monday comments. Pitino on Monday said doctors had ruled out prostate cancer "and things of that nature" but did not address other forms of cancer and rebuffed a questioner seeking more details.

"I think he was trying to be clear (Monday) night that he did not believe it was a cancer-related situation," Klein said. "But whether it was life threatening, I can't attest to what he believed about that."

Regardless, Pitino's departure sparked genuine concern among fans, friends and many of his colleagues in college basketball. Minutes after Pitino's statement Tuesday, longtime friend and former assistant Ralph Willard called the news, "a great relief" and "fantastic news."

Willard not only is one of Pitino's closest friends, but his son Kevin is Pitino's top assistant and is coaching the team in Pitino's absence Wednesday night against Houston.

"Kevin has a big challenge," Ralph Willard said. "But his thoughts and my thoughts when we spoke this morning were all about praying that coach gets better quick, for the most obvious reason, that Kevin loves him. Rick is like a second father to him. It's just that simple. We haven't talked about basketball. For Kevin, it's just a matter of holding down the fort and keeping things together and praying Rick will be back."

U of L athletic director Tom Jurich said Pitino's statement Tuesday was "great news." He said that while he had been hopeful that Pitino could return quickly, he wasn't sure what kind of timetable to expect.

"We knew it wasn't prostate cancer," Jurich said, and when asked if they had known Tuesday that other forms had been ruled out, he said, "Oh no, no, no."

Reaction and expressions of concern were quick in coming from around college basketball and around the city. Klein said that the U of L athletic office has been buzzing with calls from fans and national media requesting updates and information.

At one point Tuesday, Klein called local television stations to relay a request for privacy from Pitino, after one local television crew showed up at the Cleveland Clinic.

"I can't really tell you much about what comes next," Klein said. "I talked to coach at 1:45 and he was upbeat. He had met with doctors but did not get into details with anything. He just mainly was very hopeful that he's going to be able to get back to the team soon."




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