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Huggins still 100-percent coach at heart

Bob Huggins will make an appearance at Saturday's first official Cincinnati practice. But he isn't showing up two weeks after suffering a heart attack to prove he's OK. And his presence isn't a publicity stunt to appease the local media, the fans showing up for "Breakfast with Bob," or anyone else associated with or interested in the Cincinnati program.

Heart attack? Sure, it was scary, and nearly killed him. But it's not going to slow Huggins down, at least not when it comes to his coaching style.

No, Huggins won't be seen running up and down the court Saturday -- or anytime in the near future for that matter. And his familiar voice won't be heard above all others in the gym. But Huggins will be at the Shoemaker Center coaching. Without question, he will be coaching.

"The biggest thing is his voice," said Cincinnati assistant Dan Peters on Wednesday, a longtime friend of Huggins who worked with him at NAIA Walsh College (Ohio) from 1980-83 and then again the past three seasons at Cincinnati. "He won't be able to raise his voice too much at first. But he won't have to with this group."

Huggins can afford to let others do whatever yelling is required in practice, but Peters doesn't expect much will be needed with these Bearcats. Peters said this crop of Cincinnati players has been as obedient as any Huggins has had, and that was even before the heart attack gave everyone in the program a reality check. The Bearcats are on the quarter system, which means they've only been in school a few weeks. But so far, they've shown up for all individual workouts on time and the need for coaches to check class attendance, at least so far, hasn't been an issue.

Peters is ready to handle any baby sitting chores, ensuring the program runs smoothly in Huggins' absence. But he would have been in charge of those duties regardless of Huggins' health because the head coach's full schedule during the spring, summer and early fall keeps him from being around the office much of the time.

Peters said he was convinced Huggins would be at Saturday's first practice last Monday, two days after Huggins suffered the heart attack while in the Pittsburgh airport.

"I told my wife on Monday that he would be at practice," Peters said after Huggins' was hospitalized Sept. 28, where he spent nine days. "She said 'how do you know that.' And I said 'I know.'

"He's not going to let a little incident like this deter him. He'll get tired and that's to be expected but he's got a super attitude and he's ready to go. Remember, we're talking about an intelligent guy. He's not an idiot. He won't do anything he can't."

Huggins has been resting at home since being released from Cincinnati's Christ Hospital on Monday. He will speak to the media Saturday for the first time since having surgery to implant a stent -- a tiny, metal mesh device designed to keep Huggins' once-clogged artery open. But the 49-year-old has already had several talks with Peters and his players.

The team visited Huggins at the hospital on Friday, and Peters said the squad nervously waited for their coach to enter a room. Fearing the worst and expecting Huggins to be wheeled into the room, instead, the Bearcats saw Huggins walk into the room and zing them with his usual banter, some serious, some in jest.

"He told them that there were signs that he should have gone for a checkup, especially with his family history," Peters said of Huggins' father who had a heart attack prior to turning 40. "He told them to listen to their bodies. When we left, they were laughing and we had to remind them they were in a hospital. That's the atmosphere that Bob left them in."

Peters reiterated that the scene in the office, outside of more phone calls checking on Huggins, hasn't changed. The Cincinnati program is running just fine at this busy time of the year, with recruiting going on as scheduled, as well as all the preparations for the start of practice. But, Huggins entrance Saturday will be as grand as usual.

"I haven't had to say to the guys to do their job, to take care of business, to go to be here at a certain time," Peters said. "These guys came here because of Bob Huggins. They're thinking about him, they want to be coached by him. They want his critique of their game. They want his approval of their game."

And they'll get it starting Saturday, and in the days following -- unless Huggins has a setback. But, coaching this group certainly should energize him.

The Bearcats, who earned a No. 1 seed in last season's NCAA Tournament, will be a work in progress after losing Conference USA player of the year Steve Logan. Guard Leonard Stokes and forward Jason Maxiell are the definites in the 2002-03 lineup, with Taron Barker getting the first look at the point. Newcomer guard Tony Bobbitt will earn time, possibly start, because of his ability to score and the rest of the forwards will be a collection of role players who contribute whether defensively, on the offensive or defensive boards or facing the basket.

But, make no mistake, Huggins will be the one to piece these Bearcats together.

"The constant with this program has been 'Hugs and that's not going to change," Peters said.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.