Rick Pitino and John Calipari have built quite the rivalry for themselves.
Ironically, they started out as friends. Pitino, a UMass graduate, was the guy that convinced UMass to hire Calipari. But when UMass met Pitino’s Kentucky team in the 1992 Sweet 16, Calipari was called for a game-changing technical foul when he (barely) stepped out of the coaching box, a call he always believed Pitino urged the ref to make. Four seasons later, after UMass had beaten Kentucky early in the season, the two met in the Final Four in what most considered to be the national title game. Kentucky once again prevailed, eventually winning the national title.
After that game, Pitino was offered a huge contract by the New Jersey Nets. He turned it down, but Calipari didn’t. A year later, Pitino joined Calipari in the NBA, taking Celtic’s head coaching gig. But after both coaches failed pretty miserably in the professional ranks, both headed back to college. And both ended up at Conference USA schools, Calipari going to Memphis and Pitino to Louisville.
This is where their rivalry really took off. In 2003, before a game against Louisville, Calipari ticked off Pitino when he seemed to be lobbying officials before the game. Pitino publicly criticized Calipari after the game, calling his actions “amateurish and unprofessional.” Then after Louisville left C-USA for the Big East, they opted to pay a $1 million buy out instead of continuing a four year home-and-home series with Memphis. Obviously, Coach Cal did not take too kindly to the Cardinal’s decision.
Fast forward to 2009, and Coach Cal bolted Memphis for Lexington after Billy Gillispie was fired, putting the two coaching rivals at the forefront of one of the fiercest non-conference rivalries in the country.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Because it appears that this coaching rivalry may be taken to the next level: the Caribbean?
Last week, news broke that Rick Pitino was interested in taking the head coaching position for Puerto Rico’s national team. He will essentially be working for free, which makes the theory that he is taking this position to try and land Ricardo Ledo, a top shooting guard prospect in the class of 2012 who happens to be of Puerto Rican descent, all the more plausible.
And now the blogosphere is blowing up with stories of Coach Cal being interested in coaching the Dominican team.
Cal did his best to squash those rumors on Tuesday.
“I’ve been not been contacted by anybody,” Calipari told reporters in Lexington. “It would be an honor to be considered for something like that, but I don’t know the time frame and I don’t even know if I could do it. Where that got started, or whether they’re considering asking, I don’t know. You’d have to talk to them.”
Personally, I think that its a stretch that Coach Cal will be heading up the Dominican team.
But let’s pretend for a second that he is. How awesome would it be if this rivalry and Calipari’s detest for Pitino went so deep and was so strong that Cal felt the need to follow Pitino into the Caribbean just so he could beat him in a different setting? Its one thing to have a personal rivalry with another coach, to circle the date on the calender when you’re scheduled to be playing his team.
Its a completely differeny level of hatred to take a side gig as a national team head coach just for another opportunity to beat your rival.
That’s certainly qualifies as obsessive, and borders on insane.
And if it ends up happening, the Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic qualifier just became must-see TV.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.