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Huggins coaches two weeks after heart attack

Posted: Sunday, October 13, 2002

CINCINNATI (AP) -- A hand-painted sign draped over the bleachers had an urgent message for Bob Huggins:

''Take it easy Coach. We love ya, man!''

Bob Huggins, take it easy? Not a chance.

Two weeks after having a heart attack during a recruiting trip in Pennsylvania, Cincinnati's basketball coach was back on the court Saturday, presiding over his team's first practice of the new season.

About 3,200 fans showed up for Huggins' first public appearance since the Sept. 28 heart attack. He introduced players while sitting on a wooden swivel chair at center court, then watched from the bench as his team scrimmaged for 20 minutes.

It was as though nothing had changed.

''I'm going to do what I've always done,'' the 49-year-old Huggins said. ''I'll probably have to spend a little less time working out of the office. But as far as being on the floor and preparing to be on the floor, I'm going to do what I've always done.''

One thing won't change: his fiery courtside demeanor.

The hard-driving coach is known for outbursts that elevate his blood pressure, leave his face crimson and make the blood vessels in his neck bulge.

Huggins said doctors didn't prescribe a sedate courtside manner.

''I have very intelligent doctors,'' Huggins said. ''They know that I'm not going to do that. Their goal is to get me back to as close to normal as I can be.''

He appeared to be pretty close Saturday.

He talked in his customary monotone, joked with players about visiting him in the hospital, and took several playful jabs at the media.

''I feel really good,'' he told the crowd. ''I feel I'm well on the way to recovery.''

Huggins is the third-youngest coach to get 500 wins in Division I. He is 500-172 overall, including a 332-100 record and a Final Four appearance in 13 seasons at Cincinnati.

Long before Huggins' heart attack, the university decided not to hold a Midnight Madness celebration. Instead, it was ''Breakfast with Bob'' at the Shoemaker Center -- a continental breakfast and a 20-minute scrimmage.

With the approval of his doctors, Huggins went ahead with it.

''It would have been a whole lot more strain on me sitting around wondering what's going on,'' he said. ''Other than the media, I think people realize I do have some sort of intelligence level and I know when enough is enough and I can back it down.''

Huggins was in critical condition right after the heart attack. Doctors put a stent in a blocked artery, and Huggins doesn't remember much of the next two days.

Asked whether the heart attack shook him, Huggins shrugged.

''I don't know,'' he said. ''I think if it's your time to go, it's your time to go. God decided it wasn't my time to go.''

The first practice was a homecoming of sorts for the coach.

After the dance team and cheerleaders performed, players ran onto the court while the pep band played. A few minutes later, Huggins walked out to a standing ovation, wearing a black warmup suit and white basketball shoes, standard coaching attire for practice.

His face is a little thinner and he looked a little tired. Between player introductions that he read over the public address system, Huggins sat down -- highly unusual for the energetic coach.

He told the fans that he was glad to see them, prompting one to yell back: ''Glad to see YOU!'' With that, the fans gave him another standing ovation.

At the end of the scrimmage, a videotaped message from Louisville coach Rick Pitino was played on the scoreboard.

''Bob, on behalf of our family here at Louisville and all of college basketball, we are so pumped up and so excited and happy to see you back on the court,'' Pitino said.

Huggins has started exercising and has lost some weight but has yet to get back his strength.

''I've got some tests coming up in the next couple of weeks that will pretty much tell me where I am,'' he said. ''In the next couple of weeks, I'll have a better idea of where I am and what I can do.''



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