Sunday, February 01, 2009

Dunkin' on Rick Pitino

Greetings from Louisville, home of Muhammad Ali ("The Louisville Lip"), Churchill Downs, Louisville Sluggers, the Triple-A Louisville Bats and, of course, the Cardinals. And it's the latest of many homes for Rick Pitino.

Ah, Pitino, a central character in my first-ever brush with fame. I wasn't going to do this, but after telling this story to a couple of fellow reporters in Chicago, they suggested I put this on my blog when I hit Louisville. So, here goes:

It's the summer of 1987, and I'm at Providence College basketball camp. I'm in between my junior and senior years of high school, and the Pitino-led Friars are coming off a miraculous, Final Four season. Pitino – who would leave for the New York Knicks in a matter of weeks – held court each morning of camp with a different topic, and subsequent drill. One morning the focus was free throw shooting: Pitino, a good player in his days at UMass, at one point hit 25 in a row without blinking an eye.

Anyway, on the last day of camp, at the end of Pitino's final morning session, he announces: "Our last subject of the week will be … dunking. The first guy who can come up here and dunk will get a free pair of Converse All-Stars."

I knew I could do it, but four or five guys got up before me. Surprisingly, they all missed, so I got up and got in line. Pitino tossed me the ball, and I threw down a rather routine slam. (Remember, this was 22 years and about 50 or 60 fewer pounds ago! And yes, that is me in the above picture).

All the campers stood up and cheered wildly. Pitino came over with a smile on his face, shook my hand and asked me what size shoe I wore. I was so flustered by the whole moment – this was, after all, my first brush with fame – that I couldn't even think of my shoe size. Whatever I said, they found a pair of high-tops that fit. I couldn't have realized at the time that I'd be writing about this moment more than 20 years later on something called a blog.

But enough about me …

Jim Calhoun has been positively gushing about Pitino lately. After practice on Friday, and again after Saturday's rout of Providence, Calhoun couldn't stop praising his longtime rival.

"I haven't made my mind up yet, and I'm not holding back on Marquette (and first-year Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams) … but if I had to vote today – forget what he's had, they struggled early – Rick Pitino has done as good a coaching job as anybody in this league. They look like they're peaking, they're really good. They'll press us the entire game. We'll see that three-guard attack."

Calhoun and Pitino have been coaching against each, on and off, for more than 30 years, dating back to when Calhoun was at Northeastern and Pitino at Boston University. They both joined the Big East at roughly the same time (Pitino had the better early success at PC), and now they're conference combatants again.

Pitino owns an 11-6 all-time advantage against Calhoun, though Calhoun has won three of the five match-ups since Pitino returned to the Big East with Louisville. Here's how their individual encounters went:

Calhoun at Northeastern, Pitino at BU: Pitino, 6-3.

Calhoun at Northeastern, Pitino at Providence: Pitino, 1-0.

Calhoun at UConn, Pitino at Providence: Pitino, 2-0.

Calhoun at UConn, Pitino at Louisville: Calhoun, 3-2.

Of course, there's also this:

National championships: Calhoun, 2-1.

While there's obviously great respect between these two great coaches, don't think for a moment they don't relish the chance to beat each other. Too much history, too much at stake now that they're both coaching Top Five teams … and, of course, there's that old Irish vs. Italian thing.

Oh, Calhoun has been singing hosannas for 'Ville senior forward Terrence Williams lately, too, and for good reason.

Calhoun thinks Saturday's Providence game was a good warm-up for tomorrow's battle at Freedom Hall. Like PC, Louisville likes to press and shoot the 3-pointer. Louisville just does both much better than the Friars.

"(Providence) played that 1-2-2 press twice against us, we scored both times and they took it off," Calhoun said. ""I'm sure that won't happen Monday night. Rick's going to press us for 40 minutes, I'm sure, all over the court. It will be a similar-type team, 3-point shooting-wise but certainly not pressure-wise, Monday night."

And if Jerome Dyson or Stanley Robinson or whomever gets through the Cardinals' press, they should definitely throw down a dunk right in front of Pitino. Hey, I did it … how tough can it be? (Though I don't think Pitino will give them a pair of Converse All-Stars for their effort).

***Getting off the plane that I was about to get onto for my connector flight from Baltimore today? Hideous NFL player agent Drew Rosenhaus, who counts T.O. among his clients. Next question ...

***Guess who was on my flight from Baltimore to Louisville? The Louisville women's basketball team, who had beaten Providence on Saturday. A guy sitting next to me tells the stewardess, "You should announce that the Louisville women's basketball team is on the plane. They are really good. I mean, they're beyond good."

Now, it would be difficult for me to care any less about women's basketball. But I was tempted to make some sort of comment about the No. 1 women's team in Storrs. I bit my tongue, the stewardess announced the Lady Cardinals were onboard, and they got a big ovation.


Anonymous Ian said...

I'm guessing if you said something, you may have gotten booed.

5:56 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great story...thanks

11:24 AM 

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