Cats hoping Pitino will be fine soon

January 28, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Before he knew that Louisville coach Rick Pitino would likely be able to return to work later this week, Bill Keightley had a unique way of describing his reaction to Pitino's medical leave of absence.

"Illness will make a monkey eat a red pepper," Keightley, UK's long-time basketball equipment manager, said. "Sometimes we don't have much choice. You are always surprised and sorry when anyone becomes ill. We know he's sick, or he would not take off.

"But Rick will be fine, believe me. He's got great coverage out of this. I'm sorry he's sick and I've already sent him a little note. But he's a tough guy. He'll be fine."

Pitino's health was on a lot of minds at Kentucky Tuesday after he abruptly announced Monday that he was taking an indefinite leave because of a "urological problem" that was keeping him in pain.


Kentucky assistant coach Reggie Hanson played under Pitino at Kentucky. He had his own opinion about what might have caused the problem.

"He's working too hard. I'm not being funny. He never sleeps. It's high intensity all the time. It could just be from stress," Hanson said. "They are having a great year. It can't be from losing. It's from all of those years of working so hard. He might just need a break.

"It has to be something very serious, or something he thinks is very serious, for him to walk away in the middle of the season."

Hanson sent word Monday through Mercer County native Vincent Tatum, Pitino's personal assistant, that he was thinking about his former coach.

"This is why you have to try and take care of yourself," said Hanson, who still enjoys visiting with Pitino when their paths cross during summer recruiting trips. "This business is definitely stressful. He's very intense in everything he does. I just hope everything turns out fine for him."

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith also worked under Pitino at UK before leaving to become head coach at Tulsa.

"He made people feel better about themselves," Smith said. "He was great for basketball."

Smith said Pitino was someone he liked to "spend time with" when they were not competing.

"Coach Smith mentioned last night for us to remember him in our prayers because he had a relationship with him," Kentucky senior point guard Cliff Hawkins said. "You don't wish something like this on anybody.

"The most important thing is your health. I just hope he can get better and get back to his team and that they are still playing well then because I know they'll miss him."

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