May 20, 2012, 6:03 PM EST
The first head coaching job for Richard Pitino isn’t an easy one, as he takes over a Florida International program that won just eight games in 2011-12.
Three of FIU’s top four scorers from last season move on, leaving Phil Taylor (13.5 ppg) as the leading returnee.
Yet while many wondered why Pitino would give up working for his father for such an immense rebuilding project, the 29-year old sees the positives in his move to south Florida.
When Pitino interviewed with AD Pete Garcia, he privately asked himself: Will I be able to recruit here? Will I be able to sell kids on coming to take a look, to see the possibilities?
Richard Pitino came away completely sold on the potential of the place.
“Let’s stop talking about what we don’t have,” Pitino says. “Let’s talk about what we do have.”
So what does Pitino have at FIU?
He’s got a campus that boasts 48,000 students, and while the Conference USA they’ll join in 2013 won’t be on par with its current membership (given a mass exodus to the Big East) is still a step up from the Sun Belt.
That should help Pitino build his program, and he’s also got two mentors to lean on when it comes to rebuilding projects that outsiders may judge to be near impossible.
His father took a Providence program that had fallen on hard times to an improbable Final Four in 1987, which also stands as Richard’s first basketball memory.
And the man he worked for last season, Florida’s Billy Donovan (the starting point guard on that ’87 Providence team), transformed the Gators from a three-month diversion for fans waiting for spring football into a two-time national champion.
How will the Panthers fare in their first season under Pitino? It’s clearly going to be a tough climb, but the same was said about Manhattan when Steve Masiello took over there before the 2011-12 season.
Masiello, who was another of the coaches Richard looked to for guidance in regards to this decision (Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard as well), played the uptempo style that’s made Rick Pitino so successful and won 21 games (an increase of 15 wins).
Can Richard Pitino pull off a similar turnaround by using a pressing style of basketball?
“Richard’s going to be terrific. He’s one of the brightest minds in this business. He’s a high-character person who is great with people, and completely humble,” said Masiello. “In all the years I’ve known him, I’ve never heard him play the (Rick Pitino) card. He never wanted that to be his identity. None of Rick and Joanne’s kids did. That’s not how they see themselves.
“He’s got a great temperament, doesn’t get too up or too down, and I’ll tell you this: he’s going to outwork everyone. Because he’s Rick Pitino’s son, he’s going to work three times as hard as anybody.”
A turnaround to the level of Masiello’s debut in Riverdale would be unlikely due to the roster turnover, but given Pitino’s experience a turnaround could be a matter of “when” as opposed to “if”.
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