Ralph Willard will return to the Louisville basketball program after recently taking a medical leave

Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said on his weekly radio show that assistant coach and his longtime friend Ralph Willard will return to the program on Friday. Willard took a leave recently because of health conditions.

Ralph Willard is coming back to the University of Louisville basketball program.

Just two weeks after taking a medical leave from his assistant coaching position, Willard is expected to be back at work with the Cardinals' program on Friday. U of L coach Rick Pitino confirmed the news on Thursday night.

"We're glad he's coming back," Pitino said. "Ralph has a calming influence (with the players) and he's excited. We'll take it slow and work him back into the mix (with the team)."

Pitino said the 69-year-old Willard went to see his doctor in South Florida about a heart issue but Pitino said he has been "feeling better" and won't have surgery until after the season.

U of L director of basketball operations David Padgett has been serving as an assistant coach since Willard left in mid-October, while also still doing her day-to-day role as the team's operations director.

Willard, who is one of Pitino's closest friends, signed a one-year contract at U of L for this year, noting in an interview in Puerto Rico that he was specifically hired to help Pitino mold the young roster.

While Pitino was coaching the Puerto Rican National Team this summer, Willard served as the Cardinals' head coach. He spent 10 years at Holy Cross after serving as the head coach at Western Kentucky and Pittsburgh. He was on Pitino's staffs at both Kentucky and with the New York Knicks in the late 1980s and was also on Pitino's staff from 2009-11.

Willard had open-heart surgery in 2008 to repair a leaking valve.

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