SYRACUSE - When Bob Huggins suffered a heart attack in 2002 just before boarding a plane in Pittsburgh, John Calipari was one of the people who checked on Huggins regularly.
“You know the people who really care about you,’’ Huggins said.
Both coaches, who meet in the East Regional final tomorrow night, tell the story about how Calipari’s nephew was one of the attendants in the ambulance that rushed Huggins to the hospital.
“Coach Huggins, you’re going to be all right, I’m John Calipari’s nephew.’’
“Oh my goodness,’’ Huggins said. “I’m not going to make it.’’
Then according to Huggins, Calipari’s nephew said, “”You can’t die yet because Cal has to beat you once.’’
Calipari said Huggins has inflated the story over the years.
“That’s what Bob adds,’’ Calipari said. “He likes to embellish.’’
What isn’t embellished is what transpired just after the heart attack.
“I’m laying there, they scoop me up off the sidewalk and put me in the ambulance and I’m kind of in and out of consciousness,’’ Huggins said. “They’re pumping morphine in you. I kind of came to and I said to the – whatever the guy is in the back of the ambulance – I said, ‘What’s the ETA?’ He said, ’22 minutes.’ I said, ‘Man, I’m not going to make 22 minutes.’ ’’
The attendant tapped Huggins on the leg and told him he’s never lost a patient.
“I said, ‘Get ready to,’ ’’ Huggins said. “I’m not some old lady, man. I know what is going on. I don’t have 22 minutes.’’
Huggins said he heard the attendant yell, “abort, abort, abort.’’
“They went to a closer hospital, which is really right where Cal grew up,’’ Huggins said.
Once at the hospital, Huggins wasn’t allowed any visitors except family members but somehow Calipari and the late Skip Prosser, the former Xavier and Wake Forest coach, managed to see him. Calipari remembers seeing his friend on the bed with paddle burns on his chest.
“It was scary, to be honest with you,’’ Calipari said. “”They told me he was going to be fine. It was a scare. It teaches us to take better care of ourselves and all those things. I went out and just let him know that you know what, I’m here for you.’’
---Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins already knows what to expect from West Virginia, a team noted for being physical. Defenses have been banging on the 6-foot-11, 270-pound freshman all season.
“What I found out is they try to grab me, hold me and hug me,’’ Cousins said. “”I just keep playing and hope the refs call it.’’
---It wouldn’t have been a huge surprise if Patrick Patterson left Kentucky for the NBA. The man who recruited him, Billy Gillispie, had been fired and was replaced by Calipari when meant playing for his second coach in three years and learning a new system.
Instead of running, Patterson embraced the idea. Calipari assumed Patterson would test the NBA waters. He was wrong.
“He said, ‘I want to come back,’ ’’ Calipari said. “One, I’m going to graduate in three years. Two, I’ve never played in an NCAA Tournament and I want to do that. Three, I need to play how you coach. I need to get out on the floor and play.’’
The 6-foot-9, 235-pound Patterson came to Kentucky as a power forward and will leave as a potential Lottery pick at small forward because of Calipari’s teaching. He’s averaging fewer points (14.5) and rebounds (7.3) from a year ago but his stock is soaring because of his ability to play on the perimeter.
“The decision to come back has definitely paid off,’’ Patterson said. “My three reasons to come back and (the Elite Eight) being one of them, just makes my decision to come back more sweet and more enjoyable.’’
---When asked if he were general manager of the New Jersey Nets would he take Kentucky’s John Wall, Huggins said he didn’t know then added, “”I probably would have taken Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan, too.’’ … Wall said he point guard role models are Chicago’s Derrick Rose and New Orleans point guard Chris Paul. “”(Paul) does a great job leading his team. He is a little point guard but he can do a lot of things. He gets 15 or 16 assists and scores points. It shows you that you can score but also pass to your teammates.’’