Rick Pitino

Mentor vs. Mentee: Pitino and Donovan square off in the Elite Eight

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The West Region final is a sportswriter’s dream.

The story lines are endless: How did Louisville turn their season around? For that matter, how did Florida? Can Billy Donovan get back to the Final Four after winning back-to-back titles? Can Rick Pitino get back to his first Final Four since 2005 and just his second in the last 15 years? Is a Kentucky-Louisville national semifinal in the works? Kentucky-Florida wouldn’t be bad either.

But without a doubt, the story line that everyone is going to be writing about is the relationship between Pitino and Donovan. It isn’t a secret that Pitino has been Donovan’s mentor since Donovan played for Pitino at Providence. What isn’t as well-known is why they are so close.

Jeff Eisenberg, who got a jump on the competition with this story on Wednesday, explains:

When Providence plucked Pitino from the New York Knicks staff in 1985 to rebuild its floundering program, the Friars had finished last or next-to-last in the powerful Big East the previous six seasons. Longtime coach Joe Mullaney hadn’t managed to land Big East caliber recruits or inspire sufficient work ethic in his players during the twilight of his career.

Donovan’s own career had stagnated under Mullaney because he didn’t fit well into the coach’s half-court-oriented style. A creative passer and gifted scorer in an up-tempo system at St. Agnes Cathedral High on Long Island, Donovan grew frustrated when he couldn’t crack Mullaney’s rotation or even contribute much in practice, leading to his weight ballooning to nearly 200 pounds.

The combination of the lack of playing time and the lack of interest from coaches his family called seeking a transfer convinced Donovan he needed to work harder. As a result, Donovan eagerly accepted Pitino’s offer of a clean slate in return for him shedding his excess weight by the start of practice in the fall.

The result was a Final Four for the Friars in 1987, an achievement that skyrocketed Pitino’s value as a head coach. To return the favor, Pitino hired Donovan as a graduate assistant when he got the head coaching job at Kentucky, pushing for Marshall and then for Florida to hire “Billy the Kid”.

As they say, the rest is history.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Big South moving 2016 conference tournament

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The Big South is moving its 2016 men’s basketball tournament out of Coastal Carolina and a new site will be figured out by November. According to a release from the conference the Big South is using a league bylaw that stipulates that members leaving with less than two years of notice are not eligible to host championships. Coastal Carolina announced this summer that it would be leaving for the Sun Belt as of July 2016, so the Big South wants to find a new location that benefits teams staying in the league.

The Big South men’s and women’s conference tournaments are now also going to be split into two unique events, with the men’s championships being held Thursday-Sunday, March 3-6. The women’s event comes the next week from March 10-13. Bids for both events will come into the league and a new location will be selected in the next few months.

It will be interesting to see if the site of the conference tournament is moved to a campus site or placed at a neutral venue. That type of thing could alter how the NCAA tournament autobid gets played out. With Coastal Carolina coming off of back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, this obviously changes their approach to the postseason now that they have to leave their city.

Virginia Tech could redshirt sophomore guard

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Virginia Tech is trying to decide what to do with injury sophomore guard Ahmed Hill, who had surgery this summer to deal with a tear in his patella tendon in his left knee.

The 6-foot-5 Hill has still not been released to work out with the team, but he is about a week to 10 days ahead of schedule in his rehab. But the injury is still nagging enough that Hill might not be healthy enough to really contritbute this season. Head coach Buzz Williams is deciding soon whether he wants to redshirt Hill or not.

Hill started a team-high 30 games for the Hokies last season, averaging 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

“I don’t have a decision on (Hill),” Williams said to reporters on Monday. “I will make the final decision. I’ll let (him) and his mom be a part of it, but I want to make a decision using the wisdom of doing this for a long period of time. If you let a kid make the decision, they always want to play.

“Right now, I don’t feel comfortable that I would want to play him. It’s just too early to be able to have much more of an answer than that.”

It’s still a rebuilding year for Virginia Tech, but they do get Maryland transfer Seth Allen, who is a talented guard who can score. The Hokies were hoping to have Hill and Allen as complimentary perimeter scorers, but now the plans might have to be altered. Williams went on to say that he would like to make a decision on Hill’s status by Halloween.