No matter how much money or fame they’ve compiled, there will always be basketball coaches who can’t stand the lack of an adrenaline rush.
That would explain odd couplings like Rollie Massimino and Cleveland State and Jim Calhoun at Division III St. Joseph’s in Hartford. Once it’s in the veins, there can be no blood-letting. Some coaches need to coach.
That’s way EuroLeague powerhouse Panathinaikos of Greece will welcome a new coach with a strong NBA and college hoops pedigree on Dec. 27.
Frankly, could have anyone anticipated Rick Pitino would one day model his designer suits in a foreign country? But that’s what his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN on Thursday would happen.
It’s been 14 months since Pitino was taken down at Louisville after he became caught in the storm of an FBI investigation of impropriety in his program. And that happened even after there appeared to be no proof he was aware of payments made to the family of a former Louisville recruit, Brian Bowen.
Of course, there was also the matter of strippers and prostitutes being hired to entertain recruits during school visitations. So you can understand how the circumstances leading to his ouster have taken a toll. It’s been impossible for him to generate interest from major college or NBA teams. The guy is damaged goods.
That would explain the rationale behind the move. Maybe Pitino can find so much success in Greece someone might be willing to forgive and forget and give him another chance. And now we know some guys will travel as far as Athens to make amends.
The Athens team has won six EuroLeague titles and 36 Greek championships, including nine straight from 2003-2011.
Pitino is now 66 and in the Naismith Hall of Fame. But at this point he may be close to being considered too old to be a head coach in the United States. Jim Boeheim of Syracuse is 73. Mike Krzyzewski of Duke is 71. Leonard Hamilton (Florida State) and Fran Dunphy (Temple) are 70.
But it seems Pitino isn’t interested in the college game. He wants back in the NBA, where he has already coached in New York and Boston. He and Rosenhaus obviously believe this is a necessary first step.
In 2002, the Memphis Grizzlies hired Hubie Brown, who was 69 the time. He led the team to the playoffs a year later but had to resign due to his health two years after taking the job. Gregg Popovich, in his 22 seasons as coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is currently 69.
The team Pitino inherits has not had a good start. It’s 8-0 in its Greek League but has lost seven of its first 13 games and is 10th in the EuroLeague. It has a fiery owner, Dimitrios Giannakopoulos, who has a Mark Cuban problem. Sometimes he can’t keep his mouth shut or his temper under control. He was fined in 2015 for threatening to kill referees and their families – and that was after a postseason win.
“He’s very passionate,” said Pitino to the Louisville Journal Courier of Giannakopoulos. “He’s someone who apparently is not crazy about referees. But on the phone he’s great. He’s very passionate about the team. He’s a hands-off guy in terms of dealing with the players and so on … He told me he was a big admirer of mine. I won’t have a problem. He hates to lose. I hate to lose. I won’t have a problem with that.”
Pitino won two national championships (1996 and 2013) and reached five Final Fours and won 647 games in college. He led the Knicks to a pair of postseasons (1988 and 1989) before taking the Kentucky job from 1989-1997.
He resigned in disgrace as Celtics coach in 2001 (they were 12-22) with an overall 102-146 record and $30 million left in a $70 million deal that included the title of team president, a title used to plummet the once-proud franchise into one of its darkest periods in history. He then coached Louisville from 2001-17.
“I’m not looking for any of that [power/control] at this stage of my life,” Pitino told ESPN. “I want to develop teams and develop players and build a winner. I value analytics. I want to fit into an organization. At this stage, that’s all I’m interested in.”