Sep 8, 2013, 3:46 PM EST
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Rick Pitino sat at his table, championship ring on his finger, wearing a white polo with the Louisville Cardinals logo on the left side of his chest — new tattoo on the back of his left shoulder — and the most recent addition to his weekend wardrobe, a Hall of Fame blazer.
Pitino, one of 12 people enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend in Springfield, Mass., was the focal point of the room. To his left was Bernard King, the New York Knicks great that Pitino coached as part of Hubie Brown’s staff in the ’80s. Even though King had his own crowd of reporters sitting across from him, he didn’t acknowledge them for the first several minutes. He had his head turned towards Pitino, looking like a spectator. Pitino was completely aware he had King’s attention, and didn’t hesitate to compliment the pure scorer.
“He earned his way into the Hall of Fame, my players got me into the Hall of Fame,” Pitino told reporters.
Pitino was the first coach to take three different programs to the Final Four, he has won two national titles and amassed more than 650 career wins, despite spending six years, in two separate stints in the NBA. His place in the Hall of Fame is well deserved, but it’s the timing that makes this experience all the more unique.
It all started on Valentine’s Day. The Cardinals coming off a five-overtime loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, defeated St. John’s 72-58, starting a 16-game winning streak that ended with the national championship. That Final Four weekend, Pitino got word he’d be a member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013. A day before Louisville’s Final Four matchup with Wichita State, Pitino’s son Richard was introduced as Minnesota’s new head coach.
His hot streak wasn’t limited to the hardwood either. He had a horse run in the Kentucky Derby, he caught an 80-pound marlin and was featured on commemorative Maker’s Mark bottles … and that all happened during a one-week span in May.
Months of accomplishments have blended together, and it has reached its pinnacle this weekend in Western Massachusetts.
“I think that’s what makes it such a special, special thing,” Pitino said. “You’re on such a high with the championship, then you’re on another here, so it segues into it like nothing I’ll ever forget. It’s an incredible, incredible feeling, for all of this to happen in a short amount of time.”
Following his speech at Springfield’s Symphony Hall on Sunday, it’s time to switch gears. He’s still an active coach after all.
“I think that for these three days, you basically, cherish the past by remembering it,” Pitino said. “But I think when this ends, you immediately get ready, and you start thinking about recruiting, and it moves forward.”
There have been other coaches before Pitino that have continued their careers as members of the Hall of Fame, yet Pitino hasn’t sought any advice for what he should expect coaching with his new title. However, Pitino insists, he intends to coach as a Hall of Famer for a while.
“I think where most coaches realize it’s their time is when they just get tired of recruiting,” he said. “That’s what people tell me. They get tired. The good thing is I’m nowhere near tired, as a matter of fact I’m even more passionate about recruiting right now than I’ve ever been because you have a brand that’s very easy to sell.”
And he clearly means it. As Pitino, 60, was preparing for the Hall of Fame weekend, he landed a commitment from four-star power forward Jaylen Johnson on Friday morning.
Louisville is a historic program. Couple that with winning the NCAA tournament, and it’s not hard to catch the eye of blue-chip prospects. Pitino compared recruiting after winning a championship to selling Louis Vuitton hand bags or Gucci shoes. He has a popular product that people like — depending on where you live in the state of Kentucky.
And that product displayed different styles of itself throughout the season. Louisville were known for its intense defense throughout the year, though in the national final, the Cards were in a first-half shootout against Michigan.
“The amazing thing about it,” Pitino said. “We went the entire season with the best defense in the country, and we ended up winning the NCAA tournament with the best offense.”
Pitino’s team gained positive attention for how they handled and bounced back from Kevin Ware’s gruesome leg injury during the Elite Eight against Duke. It showed the team’s chemistry — which was there all along — but it was brought to the forefront by the live video and then the hours of tweets and posts that followed.
“Chemistry doesn’t happen by a young man getting hurt,” Pitino insisted.
That chemistry was part of what made this past season such a memorable one. He has a core of those players returning, who share that bond, but Pitino mentioned that he’ll never another player like Peyton Siva — just like he’ll probably never have one as entertaining as returning guard Russ Smith, who consistently wakes Pitino up at 1:30 in the morning with text messages that read simply, “What’s up, coach?” He’ll almost certainly will never get a pair of threes in the Final Four from a player like Tim Henderson, who averaged less than four minutes a game. And the list goes on, and on. But with the returnees and impressive recruiting classes coming in, Pitino has more to look forward to, rather than reminisce on his accomplishments that will forever be stored in Springfield.
Though success might eventually be too much of a good thing for Pitino.
“We’ve been to back-to-back Final Fours. If we go to one more, the way my friends at Louisville celebrate, I will be dead,” Pitino joked.
The march to another Final Four begins after Pitino’s speech on Sunday afternoon. It’s fitting that he concludes the 2013 Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. It’s puts an end to a stream of achievements he’s seen in recent months, as the Hall of Fame coach gets set for another season on the sidelines at Louisville looking to add more accolades to his Hall of Fame resume.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:35 PM EST
Northwestern has lost its last three games by a total of five points.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:36 PM EST
Lucas Siewert joins small forward Brendan Bailey as Arizona State’s second four-star verbal commitment in the 2016 class.
Jan 25, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Eight days after attempting 25 three-pointers in their loss to No. 5 Duke, the Cardinals attempted just 12 and scored 40 points in the paint against Pittsburgh.
Three-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining completes second-half rally for No. 20 Northern Iowa (VIDEO)
Jan 25, 2015, 6:24 PM EST
UNI erased a 12-point second half deficit to win at Illinois State, and they remain a game behind No. 14 Wichita State in the Missouri Valley standings.
Jan 25, 2015, 5:38 PM EST
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Jan 25, 2015, 5:09 PM EST
Also of note on Sunday was Ohio State picking up its first RPI Top 50 win of the season, and both No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 13 Maryland coming back from double-digit deficits.
Jan 25, 2015, 4:13 PM EST
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski picked up career win No. 1,000 as the No. 5 Blue Devils bested St. John’s.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:30 PM EST
Well-traveled former Ole Miss guard Derrick Millinghaus has found a new home.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:21 PM EST
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Jan 25, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
A former four-star prospect is heading to Rhode Island.
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A former Miami point guard is finding tremendous success on the football field and is a even being talked about as a first-rounder in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:10 AM EST
One of the best big men in the 2016 class could decide between three powerhouse programs on Sunday.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
Coach K goes for win No. 1,000 against St. John’s and a fun battle of elite freshmen guards in the Big Ten are Sunday’s highlights.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:05 AM EST
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Northwestern State staff wears special pants for ‘Suits and Sneakers’ game against McNeese State (PHOTO)
Jan 24, 2015, 11:34 PM EST
The pants worn by the coaching staff were one of the highlights in Northwestern State’s 92-68 win over McNeese State.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:31 PM EST
Crawford and his teammates are looking to rebound from the 18-point loss they suffered at Tulsa Wednesday night.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:20 PM EST
Peel finished the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks as the Blue Devils picked up their first win in NEC play.
Jan 24, 2015, 8:34 PM EST
Baylor really needed this win, but Oklahoma has now lost three of their last four.
Jan 24, 2015, 7:20 PM EST
The Tribe bounced back from a loss at Delaware earlier in the week to move into a tie for first in the CAA.
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