Insights and Observations
Thursday, March 31, 2005
By Henry Hinton
Louisville getting what it
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When Rick Pitino took the
head coaching job at the University of Louisville, he created quite a buzz
throughout the college basketball world.
U of L athletic director Tom Jurich
announced at the time that Louisville was going after the best coach in America. He
might have been right.
Those early days were not
pleasant for Pitino. There were some long nights and some tough
losses, including one right here in Greenville.
On that night, January
16, 2002, East Carolina defeated the Cardinals 87-77. Coach Pitino was
so frustrated that he intentionally got a technical foul with a little more
than a minute left in the game.
ECU Coach Bill Herrion
repeated something after that game that he had said before: “Rick Pitino is
a great coach and he came to Louisville to win national championships.”
The Pirates got them that
night, but since that time the gap between Louisville and the rest of the
conference has been widening.
Now, the fiery and
sometimes controversial Pitino has accomplished the ultimate in college
basketball. He is taking his team to the Final Four — considered the
pinnacle destination in his profession. The only thing left for him to do is what
Herrion predicted — to win it all.
This might be the year
for Louisville. An amazing come from behind victory over West Virginia has
catapulted the Cardinals into the final weekend of college basketball. Pitino’s
team was down 20 to the Mountaineers before getting it together and claiming
the overtime victory.
This weekend caps what
Jurich had envisioned when Pitino was hired three years ago. This will be
Louisville’s first trip to the Final Four in 19 years.
commitment to its basketball program is paying huge dividends. Not only
does the program sell out every home game in Freedom Hall, the high-profile Pitino has brought newfound notoriety to the university
as well. In short,
the investment has paid off for Jurich.
Pitino, who has gone
through some tough times in recent years, is back on top. After a difficult
stint in the NBA with the Boston Celtics, Pitino declared himself a true
Shortly after making the
decision to return to the college game, Pitino’s best friend and
brother-in-law, Billy Minardi, a financial executive in New York City, was
killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Pitino announced in a
television interview shortly thereafter that the 911 event had profoundly
changed him. People close to him agree. They say it has mellowed him.
Perhaps it has. ECU fans
who have watched him prowl the sidelines in Williams Arena the last three
years might argue that point. Still, there is something to be said for
the way he has handled the Minges Maniacs without losing his cool —a
Cincinnati’s Bob Huggins has been unable to master.
Louisville is leaving
Conference USA at the end of this year but the league and schools like East
Carolina will benefit from the Cardinals’ run for a national championship,
both in prestige and finances.
The association with
Pitino and the Louisville program will be a positive one as the season
ends. In an Internet fan poll on Wednesday, ESPN was asking, “Who is the
best coach in the Final Four?” Pitino was the overwhelming leader,
receiving nearly as many votes as the other three combined. Pretty good
company, too, as the poll pits Pitino against the likes of Roy Williams, Tom Izzo and Bruce Weber.
This Saturday, Rick Pitino
will become the first coach in NCAA history to take teams from three
different schools to
the Final Four. He has been there with Kentucky and Providence in previous
There is little doubt
that C-USA fans throughout the country will be Cardinal fans, at
least for a weekend.
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02/23/2007 10:16:11 AM