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Huggins Will Prowl Court His Own Way

Heart attack suffered in September by the Cincinnati Bearcat basketball coach shouldn't change his style on the sideline.

October 20, 2002|Mike DeCourcy | Sporting News

Nearly half of his first practice passed before Bob Huggins' voice first echoed off the walls of the Shoemaker Center. He merely was shouting out basic instructions, not shouting down a bewildered freshman, but it was a reminder he will coach the Cincinnati Bearcats the same as always.

A prototypical Huggins harangue would have been inappropriate on this Saturday morning, the first official day for NCAA basketball practice, because this was a happy occasion. It began with a few thousand Cincinnati fans gathering in the Shoe for the antithesis of Midnight Madness -- a morning affair the school arranged in mid-September and labeled "Breakfast with Bob."

Only Bob almost didn't make it.

"If it's your time to go, it's your time to go," Huggins says. "God decided it wasn't my time."

As heart attacks go, Huggins was uncommonly lucky to have been stricken when he was, where he was, the morning of Sept. 28. If it had happened earlier, he would have been alone in his hotel room. If he had been at an airport designed differently than Pittsburgh International, he might have been in the middle of a 10-minute ride in a car rental bus. An hour later, he would have been in an airplane and removed from the medical attention that probably saved his life.

If it had happened a week later, though, Huggins probably would have found a way to be back in his trademark black sweatsuit when practice began. "It would have been a whole lot more strain on me sitting at home, wondering what's going on," he says.

If you are expecting a different Huggins, if you are hoping for that, you will be disappointed. He will be as manic as his team requires and his body allows. Huggins rarely has been one to dash about the floor in practice. He prefers to stand majestically near midcourt and issue his bellowing rebukes for all to hear. Huggins is more theatrical during games, but he rages in short bursts, and his doctors have not suggested a change. "Their goal is to get me back to as close to normal as I can be," he says.

Huggins hadn't screamed at a ref for more than six months when he had his heart attack. Rather, he had traveled extensively, slept nominally and eschewed exercise. He had gained weight in recent years. Despite an ominous family history -- his father had a heart attack before age 40 -- Huggins ignored what he considers, in retrospect, to be small warnings.

"I should have done a better job of staying in shape," Huggins says. "There are signs, if you look for them. I probably didn't look for them."

Huggins didn't work himself into this circumstance. But he did allow his work to lead him here. When he talks now about his thrice-daily workouts, he says he "never had the time" before. The simple truth: He never made the time.

Huggins' friends do not worry about him remaining vigilant in this area. But they wonder if he'll excuse himself from the late gatherings he enjoys with fellow coaches and former players, when the collected cigar smoke and the hilarious stories leave everyone near tears.

Charlie Coles, the coach at Miami (Ohio), went into cardiac arrest during a conference tournament game in February 1998, but he still is coaching five seasons later. He does not hold himself back from shrieking at players in practice. He says the most important thing he learned about staying healthy is the importance of getting proper rest.

Huggins joked as he began to introduce his 2002-03 team that "Breakfast with Bob" obviously wasn't his idea: "I'm a late-night guy."

But if Huggins wants to be the same coach, some things will need to change.

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