Message to Rick Pitino: coach in college where you belong

first_imgAlways one of college basketball’s most topical figures, Rick Pitino is once again at the center of attention.With yesterday’s breaking news that the Louisville basketball head coach might be interested in the New Jersey Nets job, the basketball world was sent into a frenzy. Would Pitino, or “Traitor Rick” as his moniker stands in Kentucky, really bail on one of college basketball’s most prestigious programs for quite possibly the worst franchise in the NBA?In case you haven’t noticed, the 4-48 Nets are on pace to lose the most games in NBA history, a statement of futility that exceeds even that of Lil Wayne’s recent foray into rock “music.”While both Pitino and the Nets had denied any interest or contact by the end of the day, the story remains a possibility. Why? Because as Nick Saban’s “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach” act showed the sports world back in 2006, coaches are not to be trusted in the media. Not college coaches — and especially not college coaches discussing other job opportunities.ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported yesterday that Pitino’s interest was communicated by “intermediaries” between Pitino’s camp and that of Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire expected to be the next owner of the Nets. According to Broussard, Pitino has connections to Prokhorov, and Pitino’s people used those connections to tell Prokhorov’s people of the reported interest.Aside from the vagueness of Broussard’s report, the information begs the question — how in the world does Pitino have “connections” with one of the richest men in Russia? Cue the Italian mafia-Russian mob jokes.Since the story broke, analysts, columnists and talking heads alike have laid out the reasons for Pitino returning to the NBA. After all, leaving Louisville would allow Pitino to escape the “Karen Sypher” chants that have stemmed from his recent sex affair, and a big-pockets owner of a team about to finally make its long-anticipated move to Brooklyn provides a solid exit strategy.So why should Pitino stay? Simple. College basketball needs Rick Pitino, and believe it or not, Rick Pitino needs college basketball.Separated by less than two hours and 100 miles, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have long made up one of college basketball’s most heated rivalries. The entire history of the rivalry has been encapsulated in countless books, so this limited space will surely fail to do the matchup justice. Nevertheless, the Battle for the Bluegrass was forged in 1913, and was relatively tame for much of its beginning. Between 1959 and 1983, in fact, the two universities never met. However, once Louisville became a national power in 1983, the annual contest also known as the “Dream Game” was born.Once the always-controversial John Calipari took over the Kentucky program before this season, the rivalry was instantly amped up. On Jan. 7, the John Wall-led Wildcats took down the Cardinals 71-62. In that game, the rivalry manifested itself even before tipoff, as the two teams jawed at each other in the tunnel and throughout warm-ups. Once the game actually began, the two combined for 51 fouls, five technical fouls and several nasty scuffles. Clearly, this rivalry holds a special place in college basketball.If Pitino leaves Louisville, the rivalry will lose half its star power. With famous NCAA rivalries such as Syracuse-Georgetown and Indiana-Purdue starting to lose their luster, college basketball needs the Kentucky-Louisville enmity.Should Pitino pull a Pete Carroll and jump to the big leagues, previous history will be staring him right in the face as well. Between two stints as head coach of two of the NBA’s flagship franchises, the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, Pitino amassed a career NBA record of 192-220. That 47 percent winning percentage has long been one of Pitino-haters’ biggest piece of criticism, and outside of Larry Brown, no coach has won titles at both the NCAA and NBA levels.Say what you want about Pitino’s successes; the man has a 552-197 NCAA record entering the 2009-10 season, being the only coach to guide three different programs — Providence, Kentucky and Louisville — to the Final Four. The fact remains pro basketball has largely been, and likely will remain, an entirely different game. Salaries and celebrity spotlight dominate the NBA, and the individual superstar more than usually determines the outcomes of most games.College basketball, with its revolving turnstile of players entering and leaving, has long been a system-based variety of basketball. Badger fans need look no further than their own team to see one of the greatest examples of this notion, as Bo Ryan’s swing offense has carried UW to eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. For Pitino, his college system offense has revolved around three-point shooting, especially at UK and UL. Kentucky squads of the early ’90s were nicknamed “Pitino’s Bombino’s”, and Louisville is currently No. 21 nationwide in three-point attempts.Say what you want about Pitino, on and off the court, but he has proven one thing — he can coach at the college ranks. Why cloud that reputation with the potential of more NBA failure?After all, I still consider myself a Nets fan (don’t laugh, I’m from the East Coast), and if Nets fans don’t even want a legend like Pitino… then why do it?Mike is a sophomore planning on majoring in journalism. Agree that Rick Pitino belongs in the NCAA? Eager to see him ditch college campuses for NBA cities? Let him know at mfiammetta@badgerherald.comlast_img

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