NCAA Tournament

Pitino looks to complete his comeback

Updated: 2013-04-08T03:24:07Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

— Monday will be special to Louisville coach Rick Pitino. Plus, he could win a national championship.

He’s on that kind of roll.

Last week his son, Richard, was chosen the head coach at Minnesota after one season at Florida International.

“One of the best things that could ever happen to me,” Rick Pitino said.

Meanwhile the Cardinals have plowed through the NCAA Tournament and are favored to beat Michigan tonight, which would give the program its third national championship.

About eight hours earlier, Pitino is expected to be introduced as an inductee in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Who saw this coming four years ago, when Pitino was caught up in whirlwind of a sordid sex scandal? He admitted to the extramarital affair and was the victim of an extortion attempt. The school could have fired him based on his contract’s language, but Louisville stood by Pitino.

Cardinals senior point guard Peyton Siva had just arrived on campus when his coach’s world seemed upside down.

“When I got here, I really didn’t know what was going on,” Siva said. “People were talking about it, but I didn’t want to get into his personal life.”

But at least that season, Pitino wasn’t the coach Siva had seen in previous or later years.

“He really didn’t enjoy coaching,” Siva said. “He was more uptight.”

It wasn’t Pitino’s lowest point. That occurred years earlier, when he lost a brother-in-law, whom he called his best friend, Billy Minardi, in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks of 2001.

“I still to this day think about those guys all the time,” Pitino said.

His ability to balance the triumphs and tragedies will prevent Pitino from becoming overly thrilled or distraught no matter the outcomes today.

“I try not to ever get too low,” Pitino said. “I fight adversity as hard as I can fight it, not get too low. When good things happen, I don’t really embrace it. I just say it’s a lucky day.

Pitino has had many of those days as a coach. He was the first assistant hired by Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim in 1976. Two years later, he got his first head coaching job at Boston University and took the program to its first NCAA Tournament in 24 years.

That got him the Providence job, and the 1987 team, which that featured current Florida coach Billy Donovan, upset its way to the Final Four.

His first NBA head coaching duty came next, with the New York Knicks. Two years later he was back in college at Kentucky, and in eight seasons, he rejuvenated a program that had been rocked by scandal, reaching three Final Fours. The 1996 team won the national championship.

Four NBA seasons with the Celtics followed, then it was back to college, at Louisville, and this marks his third Final Four season with the Cardinals.

The resume has been Hall of Fame worthy for years. And Monday he’ll hear his name called along with others — former college coaches Jerry Tarkanian and Guy Lewis are part of the class. Then Pitino will play for a national title, bidding to become the first coach to win NCAA titles at different schools, and he’ll enjoy every moment of it.

“He’s still very competitive, but he enjoys it,” Siva said. “He loves coming to work and to practice every day. He loves making us run. We feed off his energy.”

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