By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
At some point, University of Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins' health will stop being such a hot issue.
But not quite yet.
When the Bearcats play Northern Kentucky University at 6:05 p.m. today at Shoemaker Center in their first exhibition game of the season, fans will be curious to discover if Huggins is the same fiery coach he always has been, despite the heart attack he suffered Sept. 28 in Pittsburgh.
"They're going to be shocked when he yells and does his thing," assistant coach Andy Kennedy said. "He's not going to change."
Around UC, it's already business as usual. Athletic director Bob Goin is so concerned about how Huggins conducts himself on the sideline, he's not even going to be at the game.
"I chose to go to Charlotte to watch the women's soccer team play for the conference championship," Goin said Friday. "He knows what he has to do. I've been so impressed with his overall attitude, but I don't want him to stop being Bob Huggins."
Bearcats players say there's no reason to worry about that. Huggins was subdued during the first weeks of practice, but lately he has been the demanding coach the veterans are accustomed to.
Senior forward Leonard Stokes says they won't be looking toward the bench to make sure Huggins is behaving himself. Instead, they'll be focused on their own performances to fend off sideline uprisings.
"He hasn't changed a bit," Stokes said. "He still gets after guys and he still makes us run."
Last year, UC blew past Division II NKU 81-53. That might have been enough to discourage some coaches, but not Norse coach Ken Shields.
"They beat about 90 percent of the teams that go in there by that much," he said. "I watched those scores closely. Every time I saw one, I felt a little better about it."
NKU, which won 19 games last season, might be more competitive this time. The Norse have more experience and size, with 6-foot-10 center Jesse Rupe and 6-10 Chris Seabrooks, a transfer from Pittsburgh who didn't play against UC last year.
Quentin Smith, a 6-10 sophomore transfer from Morehead State and a product of Mount Healthy High School, also will make his NKU debut.
The Norse will feature a more effective inside game than they did last year but still will fire up plenty of 3-point shots. Their top returning scorer is senior guard Brenden Stowers, who averaged 13.2 points a game last season.
As for Huggins, he says there's no reason to fret about his actions on the sideline tonight.
"I never get excited in exhibition games," Huggins said. "After awhile, this (concern) will go away. After we lose a couple of games, you'll be writing about how bad we are."
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