Rick Pitino: Players put coaches into Hall of Fame


rick-pitinoNBA and College basketball coach Rick Pitino was among 12 selected people, who were inducted into the Hall of Fame this Sunday.

Rick Pitino remembers the training meals at the pizza place where his Boston University teams ate more than 30 years ago.

Even Hall of Famers have to start somewhere.

That obscure beginning provided a foundation for a coaching career that took him to two NBA teams and three other colleges, all reaching the Final Four and two winning NCAA championships.

“Coaches don’t get in the Hall of Fame,” Pitino said Sunday at his induction. “Players put them in the Hall of Fame and I’ve had a great journey along the way.”

It started for him as a head coach in 1978 just 90 miles east of Springfield Symphony Hall, where the ceremony was held for him and 11 other honorees.

He had to “learn the trade from the bottom” at Boston University, Pitino said. There were those “training meals,” he said, and the time when champagne was served at Midnight Madness.

“Nine drunks showed up,” he said, “and no one else.”

He spent five years with the Terriers, then two as an assistant with the New York Knicks before spending the next two as head coach at Providence, leading the Friars to a surprising berth in the Final Four.

He kept moving – two years as head coach with the Knicks, eight with Kentucky, four with the Boston Celtics and the past 12 with Louisville.

Just five months ago, he led the Cardinals to the championship.

“At BU, you learn how to build the right way. At Providence, I learned how to dream. I always thought anything is possible after coaching that team,” Pitino said during his 20-minute speech, the last of the day.

“At Kentucky, I learned all about pressure every single day. It was unbelievable pressure and it was very difficult and that pressure brought out the best in everybody.”

Ten days before his 61st birthday, Pitino stood on stage with Hubie Brown, head coach of the Knicks when he was an assistant, and Dick Vitale, the pair he chose to present him for induction.

Pitino never came close in the pros to the success he had in college. He had losing records in five of his six NBA seasons.

After a loss to Toronto on March 1, 2000, an agitated Pitino urged people to focus on the future, saying, “Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they’re going to be gray and old.”

On Sunday, while Pitino posed for photos before the ceremony, a blonde-haired Bird showed up.

“He finally walks through the door, and I said, ‘What took you so long to walk through that door?’ And he said to me, ‘You don’t want me now,'” Pitino said, grinning.

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