Pitino sidelined by pain, Donovan concerned

Published: Tuesday, January 27, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2004 at 12:38 a.m.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Louisville coach Rick Pitino is taking an indefinite leave of absence for health reasons.

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

Pitino, 51, said that the pain was ''urological related'' and that he had been coaching with it for four to five months. He said doctors have ruled out prostate cancer, but he would be seeking treatment at the Cleveland Clinic.

Louisville (15-1) is ranked fourth in this week's AP Top 25.

Pitino said he did not know how many games he would miss. The Cardinals host Houston on Wednesday.

''It could be a couple of days, it could be a couple of weeks,'' Pitino said.

The Cardinals have won 15 straight games after a season-opening loss to Iowa.

They beat Tennessee 65-62 Sunday night.

''Last night, I was doubled over in pain,'' Pitino said.

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said Pitino told him about the pain during the past few weeks.

''I know he's been struggling. Last night it probably came to a head,'' Jurich said. ''He wants to get this addressed.''

Assistant Kevin Willard, the son of Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard who last week pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol, will coach the team in Pitino's absence. As a condition of his plea, Willard must undergo alcohol counseling.

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

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

He arrived in Louisville in March 2001 after 3 disappointing seasons in the NBA with the Boston Celtics. He succeeded retired Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum at Louisville.

Two other prominent coaches took leaves of absence during the regular 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.

Donovan expresses his concern, surprise

  • Florida coach Billy Donovan was concerned and surprised about the news of his former coach and mentor Rick Pitino taking a leave of absence from coaching for health reasons.

    Donovan said he tried to reach Pitino on his cell phone Monday afternoon but got his voice mail.

    "All I know right now is media reports," Donovan said before boarding his team's charter Monday night to Tuscaloosa, Ala. "A lot of things go through your mind. You think about the best-case scenarios and the worst-case scenarios. My main concern right now is for him and his family."

    Florida plays tonight at Alabama.

    Donovan said he last talked to Pitino two weeks ago and said the Louisville coach showed no signs of anything being wrong.

    "He generally doesn't complain about much," Donovan said. "He's never taken a leave of absence in his coaching career, so obviously this must be something that is troubling him."

    - Kevin Brockway

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