Like him or not, Pitino is a Hall of Famer

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Editorial: Sept. 18, 2013

TOPIC: Pitino in Hall of Fame
Coach has flourished in college game

He may be the most polarizing figure Kentucky sports has ever seen. But like him or not, Rick Pitino’s credentials in the game of college basketball are worthy of his recent induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

He has led three schools — Providence, Kentucky and Louisville — into the Final Four and left with two national titles. Kentucky captured the 1996 championship and Louisville cut down the nets last season.

Quite simply, Pitino has been an outstanding college basketball coach no matter where he has been.

But it is in the Bluegrass State where he has flourished, guiding bitter rivals Kentucky and Louisville to immense success. He led UK to three Final Fours during his stay in Lexington from 1989-1997.

After his second stint in the NBA — this time with the Boston Celtics — Pitino returned to the college game. He found a home at Louisville, infuriating many UK fans along the way for his UK exit and U of L arrival.

Since arriving at Louisville in 2001, replacing legendary head coach Denny Crum, Pitino has guided the Cardinals to three Final Fours in the last eight seasons.

Imagine Bill Belichick leaving New England for the New York Jets, or Joe Girardi leaving the Yankees for the Red Sox, or Charlie Strong exiting U of L and heading to UK. Pitino leaving the college game for the NBA, landing back in the same state he left and at his former school’s biggest rival, no less, has added fuel to a heated rivalry.

Pitino was one of 12 basketball legends inducted this year. Among the others were former NBA guard Gary Payton, former University of Houston coach Guy Lewis and Bernard King of University of Tennessee and New York Knicks fame.

As a college coach, Pitino has guided Hawaii, Boston University, Providence College, Kentucky and Louisville to a staggering 664-239 record. That’s a winning percentage of 73.5 percent.

At his hall of fame induction speech, Pitino said, “Coaches don’t get in the hall of fame. Players put them in the hall of fame and I’ve had a great journey along the way.”

That may be true. But most players also would add that they became the players they became because of playing for a demanding coach such as hall of fame coach Pitino.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.