Hall of Fame caps off months of success for Rick Pitino, but coaching career will continue

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Rick Pitino sat at his table, championship ring on his finger, wearing a white polo with the Louisville Cardinals logo on the left side of his chest — new tattoo on the back of his left shoulder — and the most recent addition to his weekend wardrobe, a Hall of Fame blazer.

Pitino, one of 12 people enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend in Springfield, Mass., was the focal point of the room. To his left was Bernard King, the New York Knicks great that Pitino coached as part of Hubie Brown’s staff in the ’80s. Even though King had his own crowd of reporters sitting across from him, he didn’t acknowledge them for the first several minutes. He had his head turned towards Pitino, looking like a spectator. Pitino was completely aware he had King’s attention, and didn’t hesitate to compliment the pure scorer.

“He earned his way into the Hall of Fame, my players got me into the Hall of Fame,” Pitino told reporters.

Pitino was the first coach to take three different programs to the Final Four, he has won two national titles and amassed more than 650 career wins, despite spending six years, in two separate stints in the NBA. His place in the Hall of Fame is well deserved, but it’s the timing  that makes this experience all the more unique.

It all started on Valentine’s Day. The Cardinals coming off a five-overtime loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, defeated St. John’s 72-58, starting a 16-game winning streak that ended with the national championship. That Final Four weekend, Pitino got word he’d be a member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013. A day before Louisville’s Final Four matchup with Wichita State, Pitino’s son Richard was introduced as Minnesota’s new head coach.

His hot streak wasn’t limited to the hardwood either. He had a horse run in the Kentucky Derby, he caught an 80-pound marlin and was featured on commemorative Maker’s Mark bottles … and that all happened during a one-week span in May.

Months of accomplishments have blended together, and it has reached its pinnacle this weekend in Western Massachusetts.

“I think that’s what makes it such a special, special thing,” Pitino said. “You’re on such a high with the championship, then you’re on another here, so it segues into it like nothing I’ll ever forget. It’s an incredible, incredible feeling, for all of this to happen in a short amount of time.”

Following his speech at Springfield’s Symphony Hall on Sunday, it’s time to switch gears. He’s still an active coach after all.

“I think that for these three days, you basically, cherish the past by remembering it,” Pitino said. “But I think when this ends, you immediately get ready, and you start thinking about recruiting, and it moves forward.”

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There have been other coaches before Pitino that have continued their careers as members of the Hall of Fame, yet Pitino hasn’t sought any advice for what he should expect coaching with his new title. However, Pitino insists, he intends to coach as a Hall of Famer for a while.

“I think where most coaches realize it’s their time is when they just get tired of recruiting,” he said. “That’s what people tell me. They get tired. The good thing is I’m nowhere near tired, as a matter of fact I’m even more passionate about recruiting right now than I’ve ever been because you have a brand that’s very easy to sell.”

And he clearly means it. As Pitino, 60, was preparing for the Hall of Fame weekend, he landed a commitment from four-star power forward Jaylen Johnson on Friday morning.

Louisville is a historic program. Couple that with winning the NCAA tournament, and it’s not hard to catch the eye of blue-chip prospects. Pitino compared recruiting after winning a championship to selling Louis Vuitton hand bags or Gucci shoes. He has a popular product that people like — depending on where you live in the state of Kentucky.

And that product displayed different styles of itself throughout the season. Louisville were known for its intense defense throughout the year, though in the national final, the Cards were in a first-half shootout against Michigan.

“The amazing thing about it,” Pitino said. “We went the entire season with the best defense in the country, and we ended up winning the NCAA tournament with the best offense.”

Pitino’s team gained positive attention for how they handled and bounced back from Kevin Ware’s gruesome leg injury during the Elite Eight against Duke. It showed the team’s chemistry — which was there all along — but it was brought to the forefront by the live video and then the  hours of tweets and posts that followed.

“Chemistry doesn’t happen by a young man getting hurt,” Pitino insisted.

That chemistry was part of what made this past season such a memorable one. He has a core of those players returning, who share that bond, but Pitino mentioned that he’ll never another player like Peyton Siva — just like he’ll probably never have one as entertaining as returning guard Russ Smith, who consistently wakes Pitino up at 1:30 in the morning with text messages that read simply, “What’s up, coach?” He’ll almost certainly will never get a pair of threes in the Final Four from a player like Tim Henderson, who averaged less than four minutes a game. And the list goes on, and on. But with the returnees and impressive recruiting classes coming in, Pitino has more to look forward to, rather than reminisce on his accomplishments that will forever be stored in Springfield.

Though success might eventually be too much of a good thing for Pitino.

“We’ve been to back-to-back Final Fours. If we go to one more, the way my friends at Louisville celebrate, I will be dead,” Pitino joked.

The march to another Final Four begins after Pitino’s speech on Sunday afternoon. It’s fitting that he concludes the 2013 Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. It’s puts an end to a stream of achievements he’s seen in recent months, as the Hall of Fame coach gets set for another season on the sidelines at Louisville looking to add more accolades to his Hall of Fame resume.

2018 NCAA TOURNAMENT: Fans guess location of Sweet 16 schools

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People in Times Square were quizzed on the location of the schools in the Sweet 16 and some guesses were pretty entertaining.

Another offseason of NBA talk begins for stunned Kentucky

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari will take a few days before having a series of offseason meetings with his young team about their futures after an earlier-than-expected exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Calipari said he isn’t sure whether many of his talented freshmen and sophomores might return next season, or declare for the NBA draft.

“Until I sit down with all the guys, talk and see where they are with things and where their families are, I have no idea,” Calipari said.

They’re conversations Calipari knew were upcoming, just not this soon.

The fifth-seeded Wildcats could not take advantage of a clearer path to the Final Four paved by early round upsets of the South Region’s top four seeds. Kentucky fell 61-58 to No. 9 seed Kansas State in a Thursday night regional semifinal in Atlanta.

The disappointing season-ending defeat in which the Wildcats struggled to make shots typified the season for Calipari’s youngest group since his 2009 arrival in Lexington.

Kentucky (26-11) began the season ranked fifth in the Top 25 before dropping and eventually falling out. An up-and-down final month included four consecutive losses, the longest skid in Calipari’s nine-year tenure with the Wildcats.

They responded by playing some of their best basketball, winning four of their final five regular season games and rolling to a fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference Tournament championship as the No. 4 seed.

Kentucky’s quick improvement stoked hopes of a deep NCAA Tournament run and perhaps playing for a ninth national championship next weekend in San Antonio, Texas. That expectation will remain as long as Calipari continues recruiting highly touted prospects.

Despite the early tournament exit Calipari said he took satisfaction in getting the Wildcats to play their best in the postseason.

“Individually and collectively, this was a rewarding year for me,” Calipari said. “I wish it could have ended in another week, but for me to see how individual players got better, for me to see how this team came together, for me to see (forward) Jarred (Vanderbilt) in, Jarred out, all the stuff that went on with injuries, they hung in there and played a bunch of freshmen. I thought they really performed.”

Calipari now moves on to offseason discussions to see which freshmen return and to what extent he must retool — again.

Kevin Knox, Kentucky’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are projected as first-round NBA draft choices and possible lottery selections. Forward PJ Washington has also generated first-round consideration.

Hamidou Diallo — a redshirt freshman guard who nearly entered last year’s draft pool despite not playing at Kentucky — improved his prospects in the tournament and has been mentioned as a first-round possibility. Jarred Vanderbilt made his Kentucky debut in January after missing 17 games with a left foot injury and showed promise as a rebounder, only to sustain an ankle injury that sidelined him for the postseason.

Sophomores Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones improved but could return along with guard Quade Green and forward Nick Richards. Freshman guard Jemarl Baker recently began working out after having left knee surgery last fall. Sophomore forward Tai Wynyard played sporadically before being suspended for the second half of the season.

As he routinely does, Calipari will encourage his entire roster to work out with NBA clubs to explore their options. Then the coach will explore his options.

Dan Hurley calls coaching UConn a dream and destination job

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STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Dan Hurley says he has landed at his dream coaching destination.

Hurley was introduced Friday as the University of Connecticut’s 19th men’s basketball coach, replacing Kevin Ollie, who was fired earlier this month amid an NCAA investigation and after a second consecutive losing season.

The 45-year-old Hurley, who left Rhode Island after six years and two straight NCAA Tournament appearances, has agreed to a six-year incentive-laced deal. He will have a base salary of $400,000 but will make at least $2.75 million in his first season, with supplemental income from media fees, speaking appearances and other perks. He could make up to $3.5 million in the contract’s final year.

He also has a chance to earn up to another $1 million a year for reaching certain athletic and academic goals.

But Hurley said the decision to come to UConn was not about money. It was about the opportunity to take the helm of a “storied program” that has won four national championships over the past 20 years.

“It’s a place that I always hoped I’d have a chance to coach and it’s like a dream come true,” he said.

Hurley, who played against the Huskies at Seton Hall in the 1990s, regaled the media with stories of being schooled on the court by the likes of Ray Allen and Chris Smith. Hurley said he modeled his coaching style in large part after UConn’s former Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, and plans to bring back that hard-nosed “championship culture.”

“For me, that centers around being the hardest working, hardest playing team in the country,” he said. “That’s our goal from when you see us opening night in November. The product you see on the court, there’s not going to be a more connected team. There’s not going to be a harder playing team. There’s not going to be a team in the country that is more committed to winning.”

Hurley said he shared that vision earlier Friday in a meeting with UConn’s players. He said he hopes to have most of them back next season, telling them they can leave behind a much different legacy than they have now.

The Huskies went 14-18 this past season and 16-17 in 2016-17 after going 30 years without a losing season.

Junior guard Jalen Adams said he hasn’t made a final decision about his future, but was impressed with Hurley and happy with the hire.

“I know a lot of guys at URI and all of those guys rave about him, talk about how he’s a great guy and a great coach and he pushes you to the limits,” Adams said. “I think that will be great for me personally and I think it will be even better for our whole team. I think our team just needs to be pushed and needs someone who will demand them to be a champion.”

David Benedict, UConn’s athletic director, said there was never a question of whether the school would have the resources to hire a top head coach, and said it did not have to raise additional money from donors to fund Hurley’s contract.

He said there was a brief conversation with Hurley about the NCAA investigation, but it never became a roadblock to the hire. Hurley has the right, under the deal, to extend his contract by an additional year if the school receives sanctions such as a reduction of scholarships.

Benedict declined to discuss Ollie’s decision to appeal his firing “with cause,” which could impact whether UConn will have to pay more than $10 million left on the former coach’s contract.

“Obviously, we wouldn’t have done something that we didn’t feel was within our right to do,” Benedict said.

Former Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore, who was a longtime assistant of Calhoun’s at UConn and was on Hurley’s staff at Rhode Island is expected to join Hurley in Storrs. Kevin Freeman, UConn’s director of basketball administration, was the only member of Ollie’s staff to attend the news conference.

Hurley said he plans to fill out his staff with a diverse group of coaches who can help him recruit in the mid-Atlantic region.

Hurley is the son of Hall of Fame New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley Sr. and the brother of Arizona State coach Bob Hurley. He said his last name has always been a recruiting asset in the Northeast.

“Coaches, families trust us with their kids because of the legacy my father has left as a Hall of Famer, but also as a community person who stands for the right things,” Hurley said. “I think nationally with the brand and our name, we could do a lot of good things.”

LaSalle parts ways with longtime head coach Dr. John Giannini

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La Salle announced on Friday that they are parting ways with head coach John Giannini.

Giannini had been the head coach of the program for 14 seasons, amassing a record of 212-226. Before taking over at La Salle, he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Rowan and eight seasons coaching at Maine.

“Today Bill Bradshaw and I mutually agreed that La Salle University could benefit from a new voice in leading the program,” said Dr. Giannini. “It is difficult to admit this but I have given every effort possible for success and I have received nothing but support and encouragement from Bill and President Hanycz. Greater things may be accomplished for this storied program and great university with the approach of a new coach. I am forever grateful, especially to my loyal staff and dedicated student-athletes. I look forward to my next challenge and La Salle’s future success.”

Kentucky clarifies ‘false reports’ they did not shake Kansas State hands after loss

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After Kansas State knocked off Kentucky in the Sweet 16, the purple Wildcats alleged that the blue Wildcats did not shake their hands after the game.

“They didn’t shake our hands,” Kansas State junior guard Amaad Wainright told ESPN last night. “It’s sorry.”

“They know what they did.”

Kentucky bristled at the allegations.

“They were turned and celebrating, so I walked off,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “There was no disrespect for anything. It’s just that they were celebrating, and I was happy for them.”

“My team’s not like that. There’s no disrespect in any way. They beat us. They deserved to win the game.”