Ex-Jayhawk Pugh to add title

Former men's basketball forward to graduate from CU med school

By Gary Bedore, Assistant Sports Editor, Monday, May 16, 2005

T.J. Pugh will undergo a significant name change within the next two weeks. "I will be ‘Dr.' Pugh as of May 27. I'm going from blue collar to white coat," the former Kansas University backup power forward said.

Known as a blue-collar type at KU from 1995 to 1999 because of his willingness to set screens and defend, Pugh will be graduating from the University of Colorado School of Medicine on May 27. At that time, he'll be known as Dr. Pugh, even though he has five years of residency remaining before he becomes a specialist treating pediatric oncology patients and central nervous system tumors.

"I think the past four years have been harder than anything I've ever had to do," Pugh said of his med-schooling. "Basketball was difficult. I worked pretty hard at it. This has been a lot more challenging. Seeing it right around the corner is really exciting for me." It's also exciting for those in the business of helping college athletes achieve success off the court.

"What a thrill for T.J. and a thrill for us who know him from way back when," said Paul Buskirk, KU associate athletic director for student support services. "T.J. was a very solid student. He never shied away from a challenge, always had his head on straight, knew what he wanted and went out to get it. "It affirms what we already know, but it's nice to be reminded. Student-athletes are so competitive in every phase of life. There's few things they will do halfway. When somebody is focused, puts down the shoulder and goes to get it, it's nice to see."

Pugh had some nagging injury problems at KU, including a pair of bum ankles. He had career averages of 4.3 points and 3.4 boards playing alongside Jacque Vaughn, Jerod Haase, Raef LaFrentz, Paul Pierce and Ryan Robertson. He conquered the task of balancing basketball and books.

"We had a three-bedroom apartment. One room was mine, one was his, and one was his study room with books and a computer," said C.B. McGrath, Pugh's former roommate and now an assistant coach at North Carolina. "I'm happy for him. He persevered. It's not an easy road to take."

Pugh was able to graduate from KU with a degree in psychology in four years. He spent an extra year in Lawrence as his body healed from all the pounding. During that extra year, Pugh took a few classes toward med school and prepared for his MCAT entrance exams. "It's what everybody should strive for unless you are red-shirting and know you have the extra year," Pugh said of athletes graduating in four years. "I did go to summer school a couple of years. With the academic student support, athletes at KU have an incredible amount of support. The resources they provide are immensely important."

Pugh, who estimates he will owe about $100,000 in medical-school bills, has enjoyed being out of the limelight in Colorado.  Now he's recognized for just one thing -- being tall. "I get asked that a lot," Pugh said of peers wondering whether he's the tallest doctor-to-be in the country. "We rotate around a lot here. There are five different hospitals at the University of Colorado. I see a lot of people because they move us around a month at a time. Instead of an ID card, I need a neon sign that has ‘6-9' on it and another that flashes, ‘Yes,' after it. "Everybody asks me, ‘How tall are you?' and right after that, ‘Did you play basketball?' I say yes before they even finish the question."

Does he recommend other hoopsters follow his path and the path of former KU basketball players Ken Koenigs and Cris Barnthouse, who also are doctors? "I would say, ‘Proceed with caution,'" said Pugh, who lives with wife, Amy, in Denver. His brother, Pat, has lived in Lawrence the past several years and coincidentally soon is graduating from KU's law school. "It's a long row to hoe. There's a lot going on in American medicine, and we need good people to get into it. Follow your heart with what you want to do. If you go in it for reasons other than wanting to help people, you will not be happy," Pugh said.