Pitino’s Winning Hand

Photo by GARY JONES | Contributing Photographer.

Photo by GARY JONES | Contributing Photographer.

Rick Pitino is getting ready to tip off his 12th season as the men’s head basketball coach at the University of Louisville. He is 275-106 in his first 11 years, with two trips to the Final Four in 2005 and 2012. Pitino has taken a total of six teams to the Final Four, including one at Providence (1987) and three at Kentucky (1993, 1996 and 1997). UofL is ranked No. 2 in the nation in the preseason USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll. The Cards will hold a third red-white scrimmage at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at the KFC Yum! Center. The official season opener is Nov. 11, against Manhattan.

KENT TAYLOR: How much did Rick Pitino need that Final Four? What did it do for you getting back there?
RICK PITINO: That would be the first misconception, because I’m really not in this business anymore for what it can do for me. It’s another Final Four, it’s another milestone, it’s a chance to see the guys celebrate and enjoy it so much along with our fans. For me, it’s just another job where you see your team reach its potential and maybe go beyond it.

TAYLOR: Is that part of being a veteran coach – that you enjoy it more for the players, watching them celebrate and experience something that you have experienced before?
PITINO: I don’t think you ever take it for granted, but I don’t think it means a whole lot to you personally; you’re part of a team. It means a lot for the community, it means a lot for the guys, it means a lot for the other coaches. I’m sure that if we had gotten knocked out in the first round, I’m not sure if Richard (Pitino, his son) would have had a great shot at getting a head coaching job. So it means a lot to everybody, and you’re just a part of that team.

TAYLOR: This team starts the year No. 2 in the poll. The so-called experts expect you to get back to the Final Four – is that about right?
PITINO: I don’t expect to get back. I don’t think that it is that type of basketball team. I’m not sure, maybe there is only one team, from what the pro scouts are saying to me, maybe Indiana is the one team because they shoot it so well, they pass it so well, they have a veteran lineup. I don’t think (Indiana Head Coach) Tom (Crean) would ever say that, but according to the pro scouts that have come in and talked to me, they’re the one team that sticks out better than everybody else. 

TAYLOR: You said when Tom Crean came to Indiana and John Calipari came to Kentucky that we were going to have some good basketball around here for years to come. Did you envision (the three of you being ranked) 1, 2, and 3?

PITINO: There’s no question when Tom went to IU it was going to take him longer than John, because they were decimated, but I knew he would get them there. I knew John would get them there. Now, we’re at the level where it’s just awesome for the state and the surrounding states. I’ve always said that the three states where college basketball is so special, the traditions are so meaningful, are Kentucky, Kansas and Indiana. We’re in a football crazed society today, where everybody moves 800 miles for the nearest game just to be in a league. You have to sort of question that type of mentality. Well, we still have sanity in our state, where a small state has the No. 1 attendance, the No. 3 attendance, has the No. 1 revenue producer in college basketball, from a state of 3,000,000 people.

TAYLOR: Did you know that about Kentucky? Was (former UK Athletic Director) C.M. Newton able to convey that in the interview process at Kentucky? Or did you find it out when you got here?
PITINO: I didn’t find it out until I coached at Kentucky. Kentucky was a foreign place to me. It’s not some place I always thought of, let me see, (Los Angeles), San Francisco, the Bahamas or Kentucky? Where should I go on vacation?

TAYLOR: But the basketball crazed part of it?
PITINO: I really didn’t know it. I was more of a professional fan. I was a New York Knick fan. I wasn’t a big follower of college basketball, (I was) more of a professional person.

TAYLOR: When did, in your mind, the ship sail on you as a pro coach?
PITINO: I really think with professional basketball, because of the amount of games and the way young people are today, true teachers, guys like myself, the pro game is better suited for someone who wants to be a manager of people, not necessarily a teacher of people. I think in the pros, you’re sort of like a CEO. You have to manage all of your (vice presidents), you have to manage the whole thing. You do teach basketball, you certainly do, and you certainly coach basketball, but true teaching of the emotional maturity of a young person, the values, the discipline of a young person, those things don’t come into play at the NBA level.

TAYLOR: Peyton Siva struggled with some injuries last season. How much of a different player will fans see this season?
PITINO: He’s improved physically as well. He’s improved his jump shot, and he knew he had to improve his jump shot. All you have to do is take a look at his shooting percentages and say it’s time to change your technique and change your form. I think right now he’s a pretty good shooter, not a great one, but a pretty good one.

TAYLOR: Did the meeting with Kentucky in the Final Four sort of diffuse this rivalry a little bit, take some of the heat out of it?
PITINO: I don’t know, I can only speak for myself. I really did want them to win the championship, I thought it would be great for the state. I did spend eight great years there. I also, contrary to what some people think, I admire excellence, and he was doing a fabulous job with that basketball team. I admire a guy doing a great job with a basketball team, and he hadn’t won a championship, and I’d like to see him win one and he got it. He’ll really enjoy his experience a lot more now coaching at Kentucky.

TAYLOR: Every coach, including Coach Calipari, says it doesn’t change you. You’ve done it; how does it change you once you win a national championship?
PITINO: You don’t have to answer that question anymore, now you can just really enjoy coaching. Kentucky is a different animal, more than any animal in this game. It’s just something that I know from coaching there eight years, and he’s the perfect guy to deal with that environment. He does it very well, he likes it very much.