Pitino on sidelines vs. Marquette?

Originally Published: January 27, 2004
ESPN.com news services

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Rick Pitino said Tuesday he hopes to be back coaching Louisville this weekend.

Pitino arrived at a clinic Tuesday to begin treatment for severe pain that forced him to take an indefinite leave from his coaching job, a move he announced just a day earlier.

"I hope to be back coaching by this weekend and resuming full responsibility with our team," Pitino said a statement released by the school. "It is not a cancer-related or life-threatening matter."

Louisville hosts Marquette on Saturday.

Pitino said his undetermined condition has caused him pain for months.

The 51-year-old coach requested that no other information about his condition be released to the media, Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman Marion Moseley said.

"I'm a very positive person," he said. "We're going to hope for the best in every situation."

Rick Pitino
He said the pain was "urological related" and doctors have ruled out prostate cancer.

"Most men my age have these types of problems. We'll get through this in a positive way," he said. "It could be a couple of days, could be a couple of weeks. We'll come back and hopefully have a good run in the tournament."

The Cardinals (15-1) play host to Houston on Wednesday. Pitino's announcement came Monday, the same day Louisville reached No. 4 in both the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and The Associated Press poll, its highest ranking of the season. Louisville has won 15 consecutive games.

Louisville defeated Tennessee 65-62 in Knoxville on Sunday night. Pitino said when he returned home early Monday morning, the discomfort was unbearable.

"I have been in excruciating pain the last three or four games," Pitino said. "It's getting worse day by day."

Kevin Willard, Pitino's top assistant, will coach the team in Pitino's absence. Willard was arrested Jan. 18 and pleaded guilty two days later to driving under the influence of alcohol.

Pitino first noticed the pain in his left side during a golf outing late last summer. Doctors at Louisville's Jewish Hospital first treated it as a muscle tear, but when it didn't heal, they began looking for another cause.

Pitino would not discuss any other symptoms. According to the Louisville Courier Journal, Pitino said that the pain is not as bad in the morning but increases steadily throughout the day, making night games especially difficult.

"It's gotten to the point where it's gotten a little too painful to lead the type of coaching lifestyle I lead," Pitino said. "We'll take it from there."

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich knew Pitino had been in pain for the past few weeks, the newspaper reported, but did not know that Pitino wasn't well as far back as last summer. Jurich told the Courier Journal that he encouraged Pitino to do whatever he needed to get himself better.

"I know he's been struggling with this, and I think it's great that he's going to handle it this way and get it taken care of," Jurich was quoted as saying. "He wants to make sure he addresses it, for the most part, to clear his mind. I just told him he has 1,000 percent support from this university, from the president on down. He wants to get this addressed, because he knows he has a special year going."

This season had already been emotionally draining for Pitino. He's dealt with the deaths of a former player, his mother's caretaker and his former nanny's 3-month-old daughter. In December, sophomore forward Francisco Garcia's brother was shot and killed in the Bronx and senior forward Ellis Myles' father died in California. Myles is redshirting this season.

In 2001, Pitino lost two brothers-in-law -- one in a car accident and another in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

"All of us have been through a lot and they know how to react positively," Pitino said of his team.

Pitino met with his players before practice Monday to discuss the situation.

He joked that he would run practices through a speaker phone during his absence.

"They all realize that if I have to miss some time, I'll have the tape and I'll get back to them," he quipped.

Pitino said he had no reservations about turning the team over to Willard, who also worked as Pitino's assistant with the Boston Celtics. Pitino said he disciplined Willard internally after his arrest.

"My confidence level in him is off the charts," Pitino said.

Pitino wasn't the only key member of the team expected to miss Wednesday's game. He said Garcia, the team's leading scorer, was "doubtful" with an injured ankle, and sophomore Taquan Dean, the team's top 3-point shooter, will sit out with a groin injury.

"It's up to our players, the rest of them, to rise to the occasion," Pitino said.

Two years ago, Pitino spent a night in a hospital undergoing tests for an undisclosed illness. He said at the time tests revealed nothing seriously wrong, and he was quickly back on the sidelines.

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, Pitino's assistant at Kentucky from 1989-91, called Pitino "a special person" during his weekly radio show Monday night.

"Our thoughts go out to Rick. We hope and pray that it's nothing that can't be resolved," Smith said.

Pitino, who won a national championship with Kentucky in 1996 and led Providence to the Final Four in 1987, is among the top 10 active college coaches in winning percentage.

He arrived in Louisville in March 2001 after 3½ disappointing seasons in the NBA with the Celtics. He succeeded retired Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum at Louisville.

Two other prominent coaches took leaves of absence during the regular season in recent years for medical reasons.

Syracuse's Jim Boeheim missed three games in December 2001 after having surgery for an enlarged prostate. Connecticut's Jim Calhoun was out for 16 days last February after having prostate cancer surgery.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.