Three of the area's respected high school basketball minds have fond memories of Cuttino "Cat" Mobley.

And they'll miss seeing him play in the NBA.

But to them, Mobley's health is more important than an illustrious career.

That's why Cardinal Dougherty coach Mark Heimerdinger, Germantown Academy coach Jim Fenerty, and Archbishop Wood athletic director Joe Sette all had mixed emotions yesterday.

That's when Mobley, a Philadelphia native who played 11 seasons in the NBA, announced his retirement at a New York news conference.

The former Cardinal Dougherty standout was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the New York Knicks last month. Tests taken by the Knicks revealed that he has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

It's the same heart disorder that killed fellow Philadelphia natives Hank Gathers and Daniel Rumph, the Boston Celtics' Reggie Lewis, and the Atlanta Hawks' Jason Collier.

Heimerdinger said being traded to the Knicks was a blessing.

"I'm under the impression that hadn't the trade been made, the physical would not have been taken," said Heimerdinger, who coached Mobley at Dougherty from 1989 through 1992. "The bottom line is at least he knows he has this condition and that it is manageable now."

Sette, Heimerdinger's assistant in the 1991-92 season, agreed.

"I'm kind of happy for him in this regard," said Sette, who is serving a one-season sabbatical as Wood's coach. "I had a kid at Wood, Fran McGinn, with a similar situation."

McGinn was expected to have a productive junior season in 2005-06, but he was found to have cardiomyopathy the summer before the season.

Unable to play, McGinn served as honorary captain and unofficial assistant coach.

"You hear so many stories," Sette said. "They have a heart problem, and they die on the court. I'm just happy that [the Knicks] caught it."

"Joe is right," said Fenerty, who has known Mobley since 1990. "I think he has a lot to give beyond basketball."

Even though Mobley's career is over, the coaches said his legacy would remain intact.

At Dougherty, the 6-foot-4 guard was a three-year varsity starter. Mobley was named the Philadelphia Catholic League Northern Division MVP as a senior. Dougherty honored him by retiring his No. 12 high school jersey on Jan. 14, 2002.

That's a great honor, considering Mobley barely made the Cardinals' freshman team in 1988-89.

"He was the last man on his freshman team," Heimerdinger said. "The staff looked around, and this kid was all arms and legs and tripping over his feet."

Heimerdinger is still in awe about seeing a once-uncoordinated freshman coming back and starting on varsity as a sophomore.

"He seriously had the hardest work ethic of any kid that I've seen on the high school level," he said.

Fenerty will tell you that Mobley's personality and humility are greater than his work ethic.

"Cat's one of my favorite guys," he said. "I've always had a fondness for him."

Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 610-313-8029 or kpompey@phillynews.com.