Geno Auriemma genuinely respects South Florida’s veteran coach, Jose Fernandez. Besides basketball, they have many things in common that bond them; a gregarious personality, a love for the game, a taste for wine and fine cigars. And a medical issue.
“He’s a really good guy who has done a lot for the game,” Auriemma said. “He’s been tremendously successful at South Florida. He’s done a lot for that program. He also does a lot for the WBCA and the coaches in our conference [the American Athletic Conference]. He’s just a guy who cares a lot about what’s going on.”
But for a while last week it was uncertain whether Fernandez would even be at Sunday’s game against No. 1 UConn (25-0) at the Sun Dome.
He has been hospitalized because of a delayed allergic reaction to prescribed medication taken to battle diverticulitis, an intestinal tract disorder that can cause severe abdominal pain.
“I’ve had a bout with that myself,” Auriemma said. “And it’s not pleasant when it reoccurs. I knew he’s been struggling with it. But I was as surprised as anyone to know he was in the hospital. We had talked about getting together a little when we got down there [to Tampa].”
Nearly two weeks ago, Fernandez, 42, had a recurrence of the ailment and spent three days in Florida Hospital. This same disorder also caused him to miss the opening game of the 2009-10 season.
He did not travel to South Florida’s game at Louisville on Feb. 2, but was back on the sideline for victories at Memphis on Wednesday and against UCF on Saturday.
“After my game on January 29, I saw our team doctor,” Fernandez said. “I had some pain in my abdominal region; they thought I was having appendix issues. After going through tests, it was determined I was having another bout of diverticulitis. And also, the area where I had a hernia removed this past May was inflamed. I was admitted into the hospital and stayed there until Friday night. I should not have gone home, but I was trying to make the trip to Louisville which I did not.”
Fernandez again fell ill and after the Bulls home win last Saturday over Central Florida – the 35-point win was the largest conference win in program history – and he was readmitted in the to the Sunday and has been resting in the Progressive Care Unit. He was released on Friday morning.
“I was taking oral antibiotics, pain medication at home and resting that Monday to Tuesday. I flew up day of game to Memphis ran shoot around and coached the game. Then, I returned back to Tampa and I was worn down a bit and tired. I took Thursday off and just watched practice. I ran practice Friday and coached the Central Florida game. After the game I saw our team doctor again and told her I was not feeling like myself.
“Turns out, my feet, hands, mouth, throat swelled up. My tongue on Sunday morning was enlarged and I was having trouble breathing and swallowing. So, I had some kind of allergic reaction due to the medications I was taking and also my body couldn’t fight it. So I’ve been here since Sunday and doing very well and looks like I will be out of here in the morning.
“They have run so many tests it’s been unbelievable. The doctors want to make sure I respond to the oral medication the same way that I’ve done through the IV and tapered down the dosages of steroids and allergy medicines.
If Fernandez is unable to coach Sunday, the Bulls (13-10, 8-4) will be led by associate head coach Jeff Osterman, who filled the same role at Louisville.
Of course, the Huskies, who have won 31 straight, will be dealing with their own injuries and illness.
Already without Morgan Tuck for the season [knee surgery], UConn is now also will be missing junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis for at least three weeks because of mononucleosis.
The loss of Mosqueda-Lewis, and the questionable condition of junior guard Briana Banks (ankle) could leave UConn with only six scholarship players for the game. Banks is expected to return.
“The swelling is much more under control,” Banks said. “It’s feeling much better.”