SEC NOTEBOOK

Taking matters to heart


Published: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 12:17 a.m.

At 39, Stan Heath is one of the youngest basketball coaches in the Southeastern Conference.

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Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, right, and assistant coach Jeff Jackson, left, try to break up a fight between Vanderbilt's Corey Smith, on top, and South Carolina's Renaldo Balkman, bottom, during the first half Wednesday.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Yet the news of two college coaching icons stepping aside for health reasons this week caught the attention of at least one person close to the second-year Arkansas coach.

"My wife, it caught her attention," Heath said. "Maybe I need to take care of my diet and exercise a little more."

Louisville coach Rick Pitino returned to his team Thursday after taking a two-day leave of absence with an undisclosed urological problem. On Wednesday, Utah coach Rick Majerus took an indefinite leave of absence after it was revealed he had heart problems related to his weight. Majerus also announced he will resign at the end of the season.

The two veteran coaches put in their share of long hours, ate their share of late-night room service and endured their share of highs and lows in big games, a fact not lost on current conference coaches.

"This can be a very stressful business, if you allow it to be," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. "The important thing is to find ways to take care of yourself, and that's not always easy."

LSU coach John Brady has spent the last four years running and lifting weights. His weight is down and his spirits, he says, are up.

"I feel better," Brady said. "I'm able to withstand some things. If I get in that hotel room and the four walls feel like they're closing in on me, I can find a way to get that outlet. My mind is clearer."

Other coaches stress the importance of diet, exercise and rest. On the road, it's not always easy. Conference coaches travel through time zones, compounding the grind. Heath said after a tough game, two hours often account for a good night's sleep.

Brady said that he could eat better, but has tried to balance what's in the best interest for his health with the demands of coaching his team.

"I definitely want to live longer," Brady said. "I want to have a quality life after I'm done coaching. That's what I'm shooting for."

  • MUSIC CITY RUMBLE: A rivalry is brewing in the SEC East, and it has nothing to do with Kentucky or Florida.

    South Carolina continued its string of dramatic victories by winning at Vanderbilt 57-55 on a last second tip-in by Kerbell Brown. But the win was marred by a fight between South Carolina reserve forward Renaldo Balkman and Vanderbilt starting guard Corey Smith.

    Smith threw Balkman to the floor in the closing minutes of the first half and had to be pulled away by Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. Both players were ejected.

    ''If somebody's going to hit you in the mouth, you need to wait a little while until you get a chance to knock some of their teeth out,'' Stallings said after the game. ''But you don't need to do it right then. But I'd be worried about his teeth in the next game if that's what happened.''

    Stallings backtracked Thursday, issuing a statement in which he apologized for the comments.

    Smith already has been suspended for Vandy's home game Saturday against Kentucky for his role in the fight. Conference officials will review Balkman's role in and will determine his status today for South Carolina's game at Ole Miss on Saturday.

    South Carolina coach Dave Odom expressed regret about the incident.

    "I'm comfortable with what the officials did," Odom said. "And whatever findings the league office comes up with, I'll be comfortable at them as well."

    Odom said he did not see a throat-slashing gesture that senior Rolando Howell was alleged to have made after South Carolina made its final basket.

    "We don't do those kind of things," Odom said. "That's not what college basketball is all about, and that's not what we're all about. But I will address it."

    Lost in the fracas is the fact that South Carolina improved to 18-2 and remains atop the SEC East with a 5-1 record.

    Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com

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