Sure, I should probably hate Rick Pitino because he left my Kentucky Wildcats to pursue an NBA career with the Celtics. To his credit he planned on drafting Tim Duncan, but that didn’t occur and his tenure was doomed from the start. So then skipped out on my favorite NBA team only to return to college but this time he settled in Louisville of all places.
When you analyze his career there are things that he has done that nobody else can claim. I refuse to be the obnoxious Kentucky fan who still holds a grudge….let it go! Both sides came out on top in the long run.
Here are 5 reasons why Rick Pitino is the best coach in college basketball
5. He can get the best out of his players in any situation
There are a few glaring examples of this point throughout his career. First, he took Providence to a Final Four….PROVIDENCE! He didn’t have a rich stable of talent like he would later in his career but he did have a heady point guard named Billy Donovan. Donovan symbolized what the whole Providence team was about. He played with heart and desire and it didn’t hurt he could light up the scoreboard. His teammates rallied around their star and head coach and pushed past Georgetown into the Final Four. If it wasn’t for Pitino, “Billy The Kid” might have been nothing but another bench-warming scrub.
When he arrived in Kentucky he had some rebuilding to do. The program was on probation and not much was expected of them. But by his third year he had a group known as the “Unforgettables.” This group included John Pelphrey, Sean Woods, Deron Feldhaus, and Richie Farmer. This collection of hard-nosed, blue collar players made a huge run in the tournament but it was derailed by Christian Laettner and Duke. That famous shot ripped the hearts of thousands of Kentucky fans and ended an improbable run for those overachievers. It was Pitino who brought those guys together and made each individual believe in themselves as well as their teammates when nobody else did.
A more recent example was when Kevin Ware went down last year against Duke with the most gruesome injury I have seen. The chaotic atmosphere included teammates collapsing to the floor, and Pitino sobbing over his fallen player. If you ask Pitino he still credits Ware with the ability to rally the team by telling them to just go win the game. No matter what he says there is no doubt the players looked to their coach for guidance. Just like he had put that belief into teams of the past; Rick this time road that belief and confidence all the way to a championship.
4. He is flexible in his style of play.
Pitino has a reputation of centering his defensive schemes around his press and his offensive style around the three pointer. These things continue to be staples in his agenda, but what makes him special is he forces his teams to play various styles and at different tempos.
He has always recruited guards that can apply pressure, score, and get to the basket. If the other team wants to slow it down the guards can pick the man or zone defense apart with penetration. From there they can pull up, dump off to a big man, or find the wide open shooter for three. If their shots aren’t falling he can speed the other team up with the press and score in bunches. With these varying tempos he can match-up with any team and is never out of the game.
3. He Develops Talent
Now before we really get into this section let’s just say that Rick has had many blue-chip prospects in his day. No great coach can win without the players to fit what they want to do. He has seen the likes of Jammal Mashburn, Antonie Walker, Ron Mercer,Tony Delk, Reece Gaines, Francisco Garcia, Peyton Siva and Taquan Dean . But I look at his ability to develop two/three star recruiting talent like Russ Smith Gorgui Dieng and Kyle Kuric into household names by the time they leave school.
Sure, he has the tendency to be very hard on his players but it just because he wants to push their limits. He once told PG Edgar Sosa that Louisville may be too much for him and that he should probably just go ahead and transfer. He knows how to push the player’s buttons. Sometimes it isn’t what they want to hear, but it makes them better and in the end they respect him for it.
2. He develops other great coaches
An often undervalued stat for a great coach is his ability to teach players and coaches about the game. Head coaches can help others grasp the many complexities of the game. Some of the successful coaches from Pitino’s “coaching tree” include: Tubby Smith, Herb Sendek, Billy Donovan, Mick Cronin, Jim O’Brien, Travis Ford, Sean Woods and Jeff Van Gundy. Their are a few other notable people that have embarked on the coaching journey that will attribute a lot of their knowledge to Pitino. This list includes former players Walter McCarty and Tony Delk, but the most intriguing may be his son Richard.
1. He Wins
He is a Hall of Famer who has 662 Division-I wins. He is the only coach to take three different programs to the Final Four (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville). He is also the only coach to win a national title at two different schools(Kentucky, Louisville). He is one of only four coaches ever to take a team to the Final Four in four different decades, the other three… Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, and Jim Boeheim. Overall he has been to the Final Four 7 times with 2 NCAA titles. He has displayed a career of longevity and consistency.
There is a reason he wins. He commands respect and great players want to come play for coaches who will maximize their talent. If you look back in history many coaches have more wins and championships than he does. But if it came down to one game, with everything on the line, I’m taking Pitino no hesitation each and every time.
Stats from: BasketballReference.com