Sports

Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy prospers while dealing with Parkinson's disease

Stress can aggravate the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, but Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy, who was diagnosed with the disorder of the nervous system five years ago, has felt no ill effects during the NCAA tournament or in recent seasons.

"I'm pretty laid back — I'm from New Orleans, the Big Easy," Kennedy, 52, said Wednesday as his Aggies prepared to face Oklahoma on Thursday in a NCAA West Regional semifinal at the Honda Center. "I've coached a lot of games, and I've been blessed that the stress really hasn't been a factor."

Kennedy, whose primary symptom is stiffness in his shoulder and neck, survived a stunning second-round, double-overtime win over Northern Iowa, in which the Aggies overcame a 12-point deficit in the final 44 seconds of regulation. So he's not about to be spooked by his first trip to a regional semifinal.

"It's no different than Michael J. Fox or Janet Reno or so many other people who have had the disease in stressful jobs and have gone on and been successful," Kennedy said. "I'm thankful that I'm in a position where I get the best care and support, and my wife is awesome. She's a nutrition junkie, unfortunately, but it's helped me in fighting this disease."

Disappearing act

Oklahoma star Buddy Hield's mother, Jackie Swann, attended the Sooners' first two NCAA games in Oklahoma City and will be in Anaheim for the regional, but the tension of the tournament is apparently too much for her to bear.

Swann left her seat in the final minutes of the first two games to find a quiet spot to pray for her son.

"She's always been like that, from when I was a kid in the Bahamas," Hield said. "When the game gets tight, you never find her in the gym. But every time she walks out, something big happens, something good happens. So whatever she's doing, she needs to keep doing it, because it's helping us a lot."

Jet lag

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has won more games than any other Division I basketball coach, and his Blue Devils teams have won five national championships.

 

But there is one thing Krzyzewski hasn't accomplished: win an NCAA tournament game in the Pacific time zone. Duke is winless in four such games, according to ESPN.

"It's interesting with ESPN, every time I look at the ticker, it's something we haven't done," Krzyzewski said. "It's our 23rd Sweet 16. We've been in 116 NCAA games, and we're honored like crazy to be here. I really don't think it makes a damn bit of difference what we've done on the West Coast before."

Home-court advantage

One team should feel at home at the Honda Center. Oregon has used this area almost as a farm system.

Almost half of Oregon's roster is comprised of Southern California players. Jordan Bell, Tyler Dorsey, Kendall Small, Charlie Noebel and Phil Richmond are from the Southland. Max Heller grew up in Del Mar.

Dorsey, from Pasadena Maranatha, and Bell, from Long Beach Poly, are starters. Dorsey, a freshman, was rated as high as five stars by some recruiting services, but USC and UCLA were not among his finalists. He originally committed to Arizona before deciding that Oregon Coach Dana Altman's system was a better fit.

Dorsey said he enjoyed playing in front of a hometown crowd. Bell isn't so sure.

"I actually struggle more playing at home," he said. "There's more pressure here. I feel like I have to play a great game."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

zach.helfand@latimes.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 24, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Parkinson's hasn't stopped Texas A&M's coach - NCAA WEST REGIONAL NOTES" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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