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In fight against Parkinson's, Aggies coach Kennedy savors return

by | CBSSports.com Senior College Basketball Columnist
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NEW YORK -- The scoreboard said the contrary, that Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy and his Aggies came up short Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

It read: Mississippi State 69, Texas A&M 60.

"It was a victory," Kennedy's wife, Mary, said moments later with their 7-year-old daughter, Anna Cate, by their side.

'Physically, I feel good,' Kennedy says. 'It takes time to get back after you crash physically and mentally.' (Getty Images)  
'Physically, I feel good,' Kennedy says. 'It takes time to get back after you crash physically and mentally.' (Getty Images)  
The final score didn't matter.

Only one week ago, the 47-year-old returned to the court for the first time since being diagnosed with early onset of Parkinson's Disease back in September.

"It was just a blow," Billy Kennedy said of his emotions after being informed by the doctors. "I didn't want to know all the bad things."

Kennedy went home and delivered the shocking news to his wife.

"I said, 'We're going to be fine,' " Mary Kennedy said.

But Kennedy's body and mind both took a significant hit following the diagnosis. Normally needing eight hours of sleep per night, Kennedy was only able to get a couple.

Exhaustion set in, he had virtually no energy -- and he was told to stay away from the program that he had just inherited, the one that he considered a "dream job" after coming to College Station from Murray State.

"We went from the ultimate high," Mary Kennedy said. "To the lowest of the low."

While many coaches would be hesitant to divulge his condition, Kennedy put out a statement through the school on Oct. 27.

"He can't keep my Christmas presents a secret," his wife said.

So he told the world.

"It was the right thing to do," he added.

It also took courage.

"I am heeding the advice of my doctors and addressing the disease and its symptoms," Kennedy said in a statement. "We have begun a long-term treatment plan and recovery. My doctors are encouraged and are telling me I will be able to come back soon."

Kennedy has progressively gotten his much of strength back -- both mentally and physically -- and he was finally given the green light to return to work a week ago.

Coaches vs. Cancer Classic

"He's not going to plant flowers," his wife said. "You can't take away the thing he loves -- basketball. The best thing for him is to get back on the court."

It's truly all he has known. He has been an assistant coach at eight different stops before getting his first shot at a head job at Centenary in 1997. After two seasons, he went to Southeastern Louisiana -- where he actually left to become an assistant at Miami following an NCAA tournament appearance. He got another shot at a head gig a year later and won 107 games in five years at Murray State.

Kennedy made his long-awaited debut with the Aggies on Sunday in a rout of Southern -- and was on the bench again in New York City.

"I'm just thankful to be here," he said. "God blessing for me to be here. I didn't know I'd be here a week ago and I'm just hoping to get better every day."

Kennedy speaks at a Southern pace normally, but his voice is softer and his words come out a tad slower these days. He spent the majority of the game seated in his chair. Associate head coach Glynn Cyprien shouted the majority of the instructions to the players, but Kennedy was also involved at times.

"Physically, I feel good," Kennedy said. "It's just getting back in the rhythm. It takes time to get back after you crash physically and mentally."

"Parkinson's isn't the problem right now," he added. "That hasn't hit. It's so early onset that we still haven't addressed it."

Thus far, he has been with his new team for only five days of practice and a pair of games. He's still psychologically coming to grips with the fact that he needs to be patient.

"This disease affects everyone differently," Kennedy said. "It's not fatal."

"We can beat it," Mary Kennedy added. "We're going to beat it."

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