Concern, Resolve Mark Catlett's Leave

West Virginia's players hope head coach Gale Catlett's leave of absence will transform a split and stagnant team into a competitor down the stretch.

Catlett, 61, allegedly battling an unidentified infection in the midst of WVU's school-record tying nine game losing streak, announced Monday he will take a leave of absence from the team because of health concerns. He made the decision after seeing his family doctor Monday and then speaking with WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong.

Catlett said he has been "squeezing down with extra film sessions, extra stuff in practice. Maybe that needs to be reworked a little bit and a different voice heard."

Catlett will miss at least one game, Wednesday against Providence, and probably more. If WVU (7-11, 0-6 Big East) loses to the Friars it will set a new school record with 10 consecutive losses. There have also been disagreements between senior players and the stellar freshman class, which has gotten most of the attention.

"We collectively gave up with eight minutes left in the Rutgers game," junior forward Josh Yeager said. "Maybe this will juice us up some."

Catlett said he had not been feeling well for more than a week and had been taking medication since before the Marshall game. He said he expected to get a better report from his doctor, though the situation is no life threatening. Catlett, on advice on his doctor, left town today. His destination was not disclosed.

Assistant coach Drew Catlett, Gale's nephew, will serve as head coach. "Maybe this will bring us a little closer," Drew Catlett said. "Obviously some things need to be worked out on the court."

Drew Catlett, 39, a 1985 mathematics graduate of Randolph-Macon, is in his fifth season as a full-time assistant. Before that he was WVU's restricted earnings coach for four years. He was also an assistant at Hampden-Sydney, where he coached one game in similar circumstances. Hampton-Sydney lost in overtime. Both Gale and Drew Catlett denied the illness being an outlet through which to retire at the end of the season.

"Me being away from practice or a game will help the team," Gale Catlett said. "That is not what I am doing here, but that might be refreshing to the team. I want to get to the point where I can function normally and enjoy going to practice and the office."

The players noticed a change in Catlett over the last two weeks. He appeared worn down because of the team's play and increased media pressure. Catlett issued a brief statement after WVU's last loss, to Rutgers, and did not answer media questions as he usually does.

"He's always happy and upbeat," senior center John Oliver said. "But you could tell the losing streak and the attitudes in practice and the games have taken a toll on him. We are very concerned. He is like a second father."

Catlett, in his 24th year at WVU and 30th overall as a collegiate head coach, has never missed a game. He is 564-316 overall and is WVU's winningest coach. His return is predicated on his health.

"I can't get into details," he said. "It is a situation where if it is not addressed now it could get worse. I love winning basketball games, but when you have something wrong with you you have to step back and take a look."

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