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LOUISVILLE Pitino to take leave from coaching

Friday, January 30, 2004

The Louisville coach has been in severe pain for months.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Rick Pitino is approaching his latest round of adversity with optimism.
The 51-year-old Louisville coach announced Monday he is taking an indefinite leave of absence to treat an undetermined medical condition that's caused him severe pain for months.
"I'm a very positive person," he said. "We're going to hope for the best in every situation."
Hopes to return this year
Pitino was scheduled to begin treatment at the Cleveland Clinic today. He didn't know how many games he'd miss, but hoped to return before the end of the season.
Pitino said the pain was "urological related" and that 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. "We'll come back and hopefully have a good run in the tournament."
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.
"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."
Emotionally draining season
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.
Pitino's announcement came the same day the Cardinals (15-1) reached No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25, their highest ranking of the season. Louisville had won 15 consecutive games heading into Wednesday's home game with Houston.
The Cardinals 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."
Willard will take over
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 said he disciplined Willard internally after his arrest. He had no reservations about turning the team over to Willard, who also worked as Pitino's assistant with the Boston Celtics.
"My confidence level in him is off the charts," Pitino said.
Pitino met with his players before practice Monday to discuss the situation.
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.