BOZICH | Willard says 'there's no way' Pitino knew about alleged - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Willard says 'there's no way' Pitino knew about alleged U of L escort scandal

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Ralph Willard coached the U of L basketball team in Puerto Rico last summer. (Eric Crawford photo) Ralph Willard coached the U of L basketball team in Puerto Rico last summer. (Eric Crawford photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – You call Ralph Willard to discuss the insomnia, high blood pressure and irregular heart beat that is forcing him off the court with the University of Louisville basketball team. Willard wants to tell you there is no way Rick Pitino was aware of any alleged plan to use escorts and sex in recruiting.

“I’ve seen (Pitino) be in situations where there were people surrounding a top recruit or people who have asked for something,” Willard said. “He’s not only told them that we don’t do that, he immediately nixed that kid off of our list.”

You ask Willard about his heart racing to 165 or 170 beats per minute and the string of September and October nights when he could not sleep past 2 a.m.

Willard is 69. He is a grandfather. Doctors inserted a pacemaker in his heart several years ago. But those are not the details Willard wants to discuss.

He brings more detail and considerably more emotion to defending Pitino, his best friend for nearly four decades.

They’ve been together with the Knicks as well as at Kentucky and Louisville. Nobody can tell Rick Pitino when he is wrong – or right – with more authority than Willard. He was here for Pitino’s last personal crisis in 2010. Willard wants to be here today, defending his friend.

“Once you give a kid an extra benefit, it’s impossible to have them do the things that (Pitino) consistently asks them to do,” Willard said. “The way he’s successful is to recruit kids who are good kids and who understand they want to get better and reach their goals.”

Willard’s goal today is simple: Find the cause of what has created his heart to race as well as his sleep to suffer. The medical cause, not simply the emotional cause stirred by the recent headlines.

David Padgett will take Willard’s spot as one of Pitino’s three U of L assistant coaches on the court until Willard gets healthy.

Willard has already beaten prostate cancer. He suffered heart arrhythmia in 2011. A medical procedure called ablation fixed the heart issue – until about a month ago when Willard was told about the stories that are the framework of the book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules,” Katina Powell’s story about sex that she says her escort service provided to U of L recruits and players.

“That’s one of the things that’s really bothering me, whether (Pitino) knew or not,” Willard said. “There’s no way he knew about this. It’s impossible.

“I’m not sleeping at all. I’m going to bed early. I wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning and I can’t go back to sleep because my mind is just racing with these crazy thoughts … I can’t be waking up at 3:00 in the morning knowing that I have to be here at 6. That doesn’t work.

“You can’t focus. You can’t do anything. I don’t want this thing to progress … It’s like (your heart) is going to fly out of your chest. It beats 165, 170 times a minute.”

Willard said that he has been examined by three local physicians. He said he has appointments with two more Tuesday.

If his doctors advise another ablation procedure, Willard will do it.

He said the procedure, which requires inserting a long, flexible tube in his groin area and then threading it into his heart, is painful. Willard said an ablation does not always resolve the issue.

But if that becomes the plan, Willard said he will do it. He is not leaving the program for the rest of the season. His goal is to return to the sidelines as well as to the court to work with this group of players.

“I had one of the best teaching experiences I’ve had as a coach this past summer,” Willard said. “The kids are eager to learn. They work extremely hard. I loved every minute of it. It was fantastic.

“If we can get my heart to stay in rhythm everything will be fine. It could be next week. I really don’t know. I hate to be away. But I realize that if I don’t do what’s best for me, I can’t do anything for the team.”

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