Rick Pitino, a cursed genius challenges Real Madrid in the quarterfinals: titles, bribes, prostitution ...

He entered the Hall of Fame but left the United States harassed by scandals. He is doing a great job in Panathinaikos.


On February 9, 2013 and in the longest game in the history of the Big East, Notre Dame defeated Louisville (104-101) after five overtime. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino rinsed the bitter taste of defeat with a promise: when his team was a champion he would have a commemorative tattoo on his back. For the next two months, Louisville did not lose again and on April 6, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, he was proclaimed university champion. Pitino complied and got the tattoo. Later, the NCAA took away from the university that championship, which (something unusual in college basketball) disappeared from the list of winners of the Cardinals to the chagrin of Adam Potts, the author of the tattoo, who began to think of ways to cover it without taking away all the link with, at least, the city of Louisville. There he had been training Pitino since 2001, there he became the first coach to enter the Final Four at three universities (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville) and the first with titles in two different programs after the 1996 success with Kentucky, neighbor and archienemiga of Louisville. These merits, and almost four decades of life on the benches (he has already exceeded them), earned him entry into the Hall of Fame in 2013.

The withdrawal of the title of Luisville culminated an open investigation against Louisville by a network that splashed at various levels of employees for the hiring of strippers and prostitutes within the process of recruiting players. You already know: the big universities are killed for having the top talent from every corner of the United States. A race with many millions at stake, none for the players, and on which the long shadow of corruption has always spread. Louisville, before the media siege that opened Katina Powell's book, in charge of escort services that were hired for players, refused to play the tournaments after the 2015-16 season. But the worst, of course, was to come. Also for Pitino, who last year claimed that he never saw himself training while rejecting almost all the accusations ("I did not know what the players did at 1 or 2 in the morning") in the book he published together with Seth Kaufman: "Pitino, My Story" .

A journey marked by scandals

In that story, that scandal, although tremendously thorny, was not the first pitino faced by Pitino, a 66-year-old New Yorker and Italian ancestry. He spent a good part of his career in the eye of the hurricane. In Kentucky (1989-97), the university that he defined as "the NCAA Roman Empire", won a title but faced a case (another gigantic and habitual stain in the college student) of paying bites to attract players . There was talk of non-allowed income (players can not leave the purely amateur field until they jump into the professional world) of up to $ 100,000 to families of players with Adidas as an accomplice. It is a known corruption cycle: sports brands pay to make sure that players go to a certain university and they commit to signing for them when they make the leap to the NBA. Another old praxis in a system that, in many things, It seems created to be corrupted.

When he started training, as an assistant at the University of Hawaii (1974-76), he was splashed up to eight more accusations, which he always denied and that went from the payment of airline tickets to distribution of coupons McDonalds among the players. But surely nothing compared, by the sensationalism that tinged the headlines of the press for weeks, with the appearance of a lover, and wife of a Louisville employee, who ended up accused of blackmail after asking 3,000 euros to Pitino to perform an abortion and then continue demanding cash payments and luxury cars in exchange for her silence. Pitino ended up recognizing at least the infidelity, although he spoke of a meeting in a restaurant "of no more than 15 seconds". Against the ropes by the code of conduct of his university, he finally remained in Louisville. He had been married since 1976 to Joanne Minardi, whose brother and best friend of Rick died in the 9/11 attacks. They have five children and lost a sixth with only six months for a congenital heart problem. One of them, in addition, is also a university coach: precisely the one who is also called Richard ...

An unexpected landing in Europe

In addition, of the messes, of course, Pitino is an essential figure in American basketball, which came out practically disowned and destined to a retirement that broke, a big surprise, the call of the Panathinaikos after the destitution of Xavi Pascual. In Athens, and against many forecasts that foreshadowed a culture shock on the fast track, it has done for now an excellent trlow: debuted in Euroleague on December 28 with the PAO in 6-8 and has led with seven victories in the last eight games to the quarterfinals with a final balance of 16-14, sixth and collision quarterfinals with Real Madrid, The series starts on Wednesday with a factor factor in favor of Laso, who won at OAKA with the miraculous triple of Rudy Fernandez in which Pitino's only European defeat in almost two months. He has also won the Greek Cup and has felt, or so it seems, like a fish in the water between the unleashed passions, for good and for bad, from his club, from the owner to the last amateur.

While in the United States it is followed every time With more attention to his adventure on this side of the Atlantic, Pitino has left holders of all kinds in these more than three months already in Europe. The unique experiences that he has had to live in Greece (suspended games, others behind closed doors, rivals who do not return after the break ...) has summarized them with a "maybe in the final of the League, and if we are lucky, enter in the pavilion only women from 25 to 40 years old ". He has refused to take over from Chris Mullin at St. John's because he is happy in Greece ("right now I would not leave here for nothing") and has alternated bizarre but surely calculated statements ("Calathes is the best passer I've seen, and I saw Magic Johnson and Larry Bird ") with interesting analyzes of a Euroleague that he has defined as" college basketball but with 30-year-old players " and of which he usually highlights how he has followed the path of a much more tactical game, physical and collective against an NBA now based on offensive rainfall and spectacle. As much as he may surprise, he seems genuinely happy, as if something he had seen in Athens had touched his heart. From the "could leave behind all the bitterness thanks to Panathinaikos", a reference to the scandals staged, to the recognition of the roaring fans of the OAKA: "This is not Jack Nicholson in the first row of the Staples watching the Lakers, here people are sacrificed really to be able to go to the matches ".

One of the architects of modern basketball

This reinvention in Europe is the last mutation of, at the end of the day, a character full of nooks and crannies that has gone from legend to survivor but that has been one of the architects of modern basketball as we understand it now. Author of several books, basketball and even self-help with audio version, he left the university world with 73% of victories (629-234) and as one of the first to proclaim the importance of the shot of three as the basis of the attack game . His Kentucky team was called "Pitino's Bombinos" because of the bombing of three, a very high rhythm of play that filled the bleachers and defensive pressure all the way from what happened to his well-known areas in Louisville ... He learned of Jim Boeheim in Syracuse and had two steps by the NBA, in the Knicks (1987-89) of which he had already been an assistant and in a Celtics (102-146 between 1997 and 2001) which came out with a deep disaffection and where he still remembers his speech in the press room, fed up with the pressure and expectations not reached by the green franchise: "There are people who seem to be waiting for Larry Bird, but Larry Bird is not going to enter through that door, Kevin McHale will not go through that door, Robert P arish will not enter through that door ... "

Now, in 2019 and far from March Madness, looks for another Final Four for his resume, this time in May and in the Euroleague. And he will do it starting on Wednesday and against Real Madrid of Pablo Laso, who went further than him as a base: Pitino was not professional but he did have a good university career at UMass, where he coincided one year with Julius Erving although they did not play together because the future coach was a first-class player year and these (freshman) by then did not participate in the games. From there to the benches (one of its titles is titled "Born To Coach", born to train), the Hall of Fame, the glory ... and the scandals and forced exile by the accusations and the mess. Against all that you will see Real Madrid: a legend turned into a survivor. So be careful, very careful.



Photos from as.com

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