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How’s Rick Pitino doing coaching in Greece?

Rick Pitino Panathinaikos

Rick Pitino is right at home, even if he’s 5,500 miles away. (Ayhan Mehmet/Getty Images)

The arena is packed, filled to the ceiling with rabid fans screaming, chanting and singing, cheering on their legendary team as it pursues yet another title.

Rick Pitino paces up and down the sideline, gesturing, pointing, posturing, barking instructions and begging for explanations from referees.

He’s right at home, though his front door is over 5,500 miles away.

Rick Pitino is coaching again.

If you ask him, it’s not his fault that he’s been exiled from college basketball, flung halfway around the world like Napoleon, now trying to learn a new alphabet and calling players mostly by their nicknames.

As he tells it, a set of circumstances befitting a Greek tragedy have landed him in Greece, where he’s coaching at Panathinaikos in Athens. There’s been everything from rogue assistant coaches to rogue Adidas employees, to rogue high school parents. Everybody seemed to know about the alleged improprieties taking place at Louisville except Rick Pitino and his dog.

Let’s not pretend that the crime that got Pitino deposed at Louisville was one that defrauded society. The real crime, of course, isn’t that some college basketball players get paid, it’s that most of them don’t.

All the while schools suck in billions of dollars in revenue and collude to send players halfway across the country for conference games while they bilk cable consumers with their own unnecessary networks.

That said, Pitino is no sympathetic figure. The FBI scandal wasn’t nearly the most disgusting thing that happened under his watch at Louisville. He deserves his involuntary vacation.

Still, it’s arresting to see him pacing the sidelines in the EuroLeague, matching up against coaches most U.S. basketball fans have never heard of, and whose names they couldn’t spell if you gave them 16 tries. Seeing his picture on this list of coaches is surreal.

This stop could end up being a great footnote for a basketball lifer like Pitino, who’s already made two stops in the NBA, coached at six different colleges, and even took a job coaching Puerto Rico in the Pan Am Games back in 2015.

The man simply can’t get enough of coaching, no matter where he’s doing it, and there are worse places to test your mettle than the EuroLeague. It’s one of the world’s best basketball competitions, and success there could go a long way towards earning the Basketball Hall of Famer a job back stateside.

Pitino spoke about his decision to take the job at Panathinaikos on The Dan Patrick Show:

“Even though I was doing things that I’ve never done before, and somewhat enjoying life, at the end of the night, I’d have a difficult time shutting my eyes realizing how much I missed it,” Pitino explained.

“It’s in your blood, it’s an addiction. You miss the camaraderie with the players, you miss the development with the players, the intensity on the sidelines, the competitive nature of the game itself, and you just can’t live without it. I know I can’t.”

The 66-year-old also mentioned that he’d like to learn new things, maybe new concepts that he can add to his library of basketball knowledge.

He says the EuroLeague game is like the old NBA in terms of physicality, and that a new style of basketball may intrigue and challenge him as a coach.

But this isn’t some victory lap in a foreign country where fans will be thrilled just to see the American legend on the sidelines. There’s pressure that comes with coaching at Panathinaikos, a storied team in Greece, and a club that’s won the Greek league 37 times and the EuroLeague six times in its history.

The previous coach, Xavi Pascual, was fired after a 6-7 start to the season and a couple of years of not advancing far enough in the playoffs.

The team’s owner, Dimitrios Giannakopoulos, is notorious for once threatening to kill three referees after a playoff game in which Panathinaikos won.

Since Pitino took over, Panathinaikos has gone 2-3. The team currently sits in 10th place. It’s not a bad start, given the learning curve both he and his players have to deal with.

Pitino has plenty of familiar names on his squad– from college standouts like Nick Calathes (Florida), Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), and Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), to former Kansas star Keith Langford, who’s become an all-time great in the EuroLeague.

He’s also got former Kings lottery pick Giorgos Papagiannis and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s older brother Thanasis, who once played for the Knicks.

Pitino says when he took over, the chatter around the team was that it wasn’t shooting the ball well.

“If you pass the ball, you can shoot,” he explained in professorial style. “If you stand around, the defense will make you take bad shots.” He’s going to enjoy giving his players, fans, everyone he meets in the Mediterranean a lesson in Basketball 101.

Despite everything that’s happened, it’s heartening seeing Pitino on the sidelines, and it’ll be interesting to see if his legendary coaching ability translates in a different language.

He’s already praised the fans, and the atmosphere at games.

“It reminds me of being back home, at Kentucky. And that’s the greatest compliment I could give fans, because they’ve got the greatest fans in the States.”

He’s not in Kentucky, nowhere near the NBA, and half a world from home.

But Rick Pitino is on a sideline, screaming and pointing, living and dying with every possession.

He wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.

 

 

Also see (from 2013):

How Louisville’s Peyton Siva saved his father’s life, and then his team’s season

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