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Rick Pitino caps ‘unbelievable week’ with a national title

Apr 9, 2013, 3:50 AM EDT

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ATLANTA — Think about where Rick Pitino was four years ago, as Karen Sypher dragged him through what was likely the most embarrassing scandal in the history of college athletics.

Then think about where he was just two years later, as he lost his second straight opening round NCAA tournament game while watching arch-nemesis John Calipari lead arch-rival Kentucky to the Final Four. Think about where he was after last year’s Final Four, when he not only lost to those Wildcats in New Orleans, but he had to watch them win the National Title afterwards while everyone proclaimed Kentucky to be the next college basketball dynasty.

There were a lot of people that didn’t think that Pitino would still be coaching right now, and yet there he was on Monday night, cutting down the nets after his Cardinals won him his second national title in a thriller over Michigan, 82-76.

It wasn’t just the ring that Pitino won, however.

MORE: Photos from Monday night

It was his horse that won the Santa Anita Derby and qualified for the Kentucky Derby. It was his son, Richard, getting hired to be the next head coach at the University of Minnesota. It was the announced that he had been elected for induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame. And all of that happened as he became the first coach to win a championship at two different schools.

“It’s been the most unbelievable week that a guy can go through in sport,” the younger Pitino said after the game. “I’m really proud.”

But here’s the thing about Pitino: he did everything that he could to share the credit for this title with those around him. Somewhere deep down, there’s an ego that needs to be stroked, but that wasn’t happening on this night. When asked what it means to win a title and get named to the Hall of Fame in the same day, Pitino said “players put coaches in the Hall of Fame.” When asked about the emotions that with hearing that final buzzer sound, Pitino told a long and rambling — and heart felt — story about how he gave the jersey he received from the Hall of Fame to his sister-in-law, who lost her husband and her brother within a five-month span and who overcame alcoholism to raise three kids.

I believe it.

I don’t think this is an act.

MORE: Now this was a game for the ages

You can see it in the way that he interacts with his players. How long would Russ Smith have lasted on the Louisville roster if this was six or seven years ago? But Smith not only has thrived under Pitino, he became an all-american after he actually wanted to leave the program and now the two have the most charmingly dysfunctional relationship between a coach and a player in the country. Pitino can needle him about not listening to him at the same time that he praises Smith for going shirtless and painting his chest to women’s soccer games.

Pitino cares. He really, truly cares about his players, and that may be the reason that he is able to get so much out of them. It’s not that difficult to leave it all on the floor for a coach that you believe is family.

“It feels amazing to get this win for him,” Peyton Siva said. “Playing for a great guy, not just from coaching, just a great father figure.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

  1. saint1997 - Apr 9, 2013 at 5:10 AM

    Sorry only a new CBB fan, what was the disgrace he was involved in 4 years ago??

    • bucrightoff - Apr 9, 2013 at 10:36 AM

      Impregnated someone not named his wife in a restaurant, paid for the abortion, then was extorted (or attempted to). Unless you never turn on TV not sure how you don’t know that, it was big actual news, not just sports news.

      • saint1997 - Apr 10, 2013 at 4:19 AM

        Sorry dude i don’t live in the States. As difficult as it may seem, but Australian news channels don’t have features on disgraced American college ball coaches…

  2. patthehockeyfan - Apr 9, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    THAT is exactly what I thought would happen. Someone not familiar with the scandal asking about it.

    Why in the heck did Doug Gottlieb find it necessary to bring that up during CBS’s post-game analysis last night? Why in the heck did you mention it, Rob? And in the very first paragraph?

    I fail to see the relevance.

  3. savoirlaire - Apr 9, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    I’ve just come to accept that the Sypher incident is going to be part of the fabric of Pitino’s story from now on, and I wouldn’ be surprised if he has too…that being said, I am constantly impressed by Pitino, not just as a great recruiter and floor coach, not just as a great leader of men, not just as the best interview out there, but as a person. He is a straight shooter, and smart as a whip. I contrast him with the other major Italian coach in KY, who though he has never been caught having an affair, always sounds like a snake oil salesman and says the most disingenuous and contrived things (no, Calipari, it’s not just about “these kids”, it’s also about the school, the fans, the game). Cal may bring in his usual truckload of high school divas who have no interest in anything other than being a lottery pick (but yet are “uncoachable” when they don’t win), but Pitino turns boys into men…

    • patthehockeyfan - Apr 9, 2013 at 12:19 PM

      Well said!

      And, I think that, regarding Calipari, this year is what one would call ‘karma.’ Big time karma.

      • pauleky - Apr 9, 2013 at 3:44 PM

        Really? Calipari won last year’s title and will likely win another one next year. Please – I’m no fan of Cal as a person, but he’s a great coach. This year was clearly about the players – they just did not care to play as a team. Obvious. I have never liked Pitino as a person. He had some pretty nasty things to say about the people of Kentucky when he first moved here. He’s entitled to his opinion, but to paint a whole state based on the actions of a few is ridiculous (having been to New Jersey and New York, perhaps he should stop throwing rocks in glass houses). The Sypher incident was overblown, but it also gives incite into his character. He seems contrite and I’m sure he is, but it’s a horrible message to send to these young men. Let’s hope they learned a lesson by how it played out.

        All that said, Pitino is a great coach – no doubt about it.

      • pauleky - Apr 9, 2013 at 3:45 PM

        Umm…”insight.”

      • patthehockeyfan - Apr 9, 2013 at 4:19 PM

        My ‘karma’ comment about Calipari was intended to convey the following: Last year, Kentucky won the title. This year, they didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament and were knocked out of the NIT in the first round as a #1 seed by a #16 seed.

        Cal recruits some of the best players in the country with the carrot stick of: “play for me and you’ll go pro next year” (as opposed to Mike Krzez [whatever] – Coach K – who recruits with the carrot stick of, “play for me and you’ll get an education.”). I have no argument that Cal’s not a good coach. He is. So is Coach K.

        My point is, Cal seems proud of the fact that he turns uneducated kids into pros after one year. A lot of people would like to see college ball played by kids who want to go to college for the experience of going to college and maybe learn something.

        That’s Cal’s karma. Proud that he can turn freshman out every year into the pro circuit. Well, not this year. He failed miserably. You can blame it on the kids. Or not. All I’m saying is that whatever one sends out into space comes back. That’s karma. And, that’s what Cal got this year.

  4. MyTeamsAllStink - Apr 9, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    Pitino has had one hell of a week.With the way his lucks going I’m inclined to see if he’ll go halves with me on a Powerball ticket!

  5. coryfor3 - Apr 9, 2013 at 3:59 PM

    He’s a winning coach and makes a lot of people a lot of money and has a lot of power. So the whole scandal is wiped away and no one has mentioned it for some time. I would never send my kid to play for a guy that did that. Despicable. Is it bad that she tried to blackmail him? Yes. Is it his own fault he was in a position to have that happen? It is a disgusting story of what he did.
    If all his wonderful deeds are just pure good deeds, why does he tell the media on a grand stage about all the great things he does? Give away the jersey and be quiet.

  6. prov1x - Apr 9, 2013 at 6:13 PM

    Likely? Weren’t they supposed to be a dynasty after last season? Dynasties don’t lose to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. And all these “lack of character” comments….didn’t Pitino pull UK out of the gutter in the 90′s? Y’all loved his character then. Now you have a clown that will pull you right back in that gutter, with Eddie Sutton.

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