DENVER -- Nuggets coach George Karl must be feeling better. His sarcastic sense of humor is back.
Standing behind the cameras as Duke center Brian Zoubek conducted an interview after a predraft workout at the Pepsi Center on Monday, Karl couldn't resist a dig at the Blue Devils' recent national title.
"You got lucky," muttered Karl, once a player at rival North Carolina.
That's the old George Karl the Nuggets have been longing to see again ever since he was diagnosed with neck cancer six months ago and underwent a grueling treatment program that sidelined him in mid-March.
"I'm more sarcastic with my staff -- and Duke players," said Karl, who is easing his way back into basketball as he gets further away from the radiation and chemotherapy and the complications that kept sending him back to the hospital.
Karl said he fully intends to be back on the bench next season as long as he doesn't have any setbacks.
He said he feels "a little better" with each passing week but still uses a feeding tube because of the sores in his mouth caused by efforts to kill the cancer.
He's taking more brisk walks these days and spending more time involved in team meetings and planning sessions. He showed up Monday for the workout just to take a look at a few of the players brought into town even though the Nuggets don't own a pick in Thursday night's NBA draft.
"Energy is good," Karl said, his voice still a little scratchy. "Draft has got me excited, the team has got me excited. Time to get better."
Karl will have a hand in the draft and will attend some of the summer league games, but he has to make sure he doesn't overdo it as he recovers from his second bout with cancer. He beat prostate cancer several years ago.
"I'm not planning on being super active this summer," said Karl, 59. "I'm just trying to be part of an organization that's trying to win a championship. We obviously need to get better this summer to do that."
The Nuggets fizzled down the stretch without Karl, bowing out to Utah in the first round of the playoffs under assistant Adrian Dantley.
Ever since the season ended, Karl has gone into the office as often as he could to feel involved again.
That's been a vital part of the healing process as well.
"Your basketball family is your second life. These guys are great," Karl said. "They're very close to me, and I'm very close to them. It's good to be back. A special part of coaching is the winning and losing, the competition. But there's a special bond between people that work for you and with you."
Notre Dame's Luke Harangody was one of the players who took part in the workout Monday, relishing the chance to meet Karl.
"It's great to see him up and moving around here," said Harangody, who averaged 21.8 points for the Irish last season. "He sounds like he's doing a lot better. It's great to hear."
The 7-foot-1 Zoubek felt the same way, even if he was ribbed by Karl for being a Blue Devil. The Nuggets could very well trade back into the draft and Zoubek might just be the type of player they target.
Zoubek said that should he have a chance to play for the Nuggets, he'd welcome the opportunity -- even if it means playing for a coach that was once a Tar Heel.
"It's a lot of respect, some dislike here and there," explained Zoubek, who had 10 rebounds and two blocked shots in the title game to help Duke hold off pesky Butler. "It's all good."
As much as it can be.
As he waited and waited for Zoubek to wrap up his interview, Karl leaned up against the wall and finally cracked, "If you're talking to a Dukie, I'm leaving."
That quickly ended the interview.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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