At Syracuse, Rick Pitino grew as a coach under Jim Boeheim

first_imgForty-eight hours after Jim Boeheim’s Hall of Fame head coaching career began, he needed to fill out his staff. He drove to New York City to convince a young coach, Rick Pitino, then 24, to join him. So Boeheim called Pitino’s hotel room and asked him to talk.“That’s great, Jim,” Boeheim recalled Pitino said to him, “but I just got married, so I can’t do it today, and I’m leaving on my honeymoon tomorrow,”“It has to be right now,” Boeheim said.They met in the lobby of a Manhattan hotel, spoke for two or three hours and agreed on Pitino’s salary of $17,000. Boeheim insisted Pitino start immediately and go on a trip to Cincinnati to recruit Louis Orr, who became an SU star. But Pitino and his wife, Joanne, wanted to leave for their honeymoon in Puerto Rico. Boeheim wouldn’t let him go.“Oh, my wife’s gonna love this,” Pitino told Boeheim.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textA skipped honeymoon began the Pitino era at Syracuse, which spanned two seasons from 1976-78 and doubled as Boeheim’s first two seasons as head coach. In one drill, players said they did slides while holding bricks out in front of them. Pitino worked out with players well before the official start of practice at 3:40 p.m., and he showcased a passion for the game that led him to an illustrious career including stints with the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and college programs like Kentucky and Louisville. His progression to the Hall of Fame — he’s the only coach to lead three programs to the Final Four — happened by sticking to the same approach molded at Syracuse.“He was a tremendously enthusiastic young coach who really loved the game, knew the game, and understood how hard you have to work at the game,” Boeheim recalled on Monday.“He knew that at a very young age.”On Wednesday night, the No. 18 Louisville Cardinals visit the Carrier Dome for the first time without Pitino since 1998. Pitino went 12-5 against Boeheim over 17 seasons, but his tenure at Louisville ended following the 2016-17 season because he was involved in a FBI probe that forced him to resign. He’s since coached in Greece, where he led his team to the Greek Cup title last weekend.Rick Pitino coached for two seasons with Syracuse. It was Jim Boeheim’s first two years as head coach of the Orange. SU ArchivesPitino could not be reached for comment on this story after multiple attempts. In his 2018 book, “Pitino: My Story,” he said he was a dogged recruiter at Syracuse who wanted to see most of his high school recruit’s games.While traveling with Boeheim on trips, he remembered the head coach being glued to the TV screen, his face a foot from the screen, so he could hear the whisper-level volume late at night while Pitino slept, his book said. They became close friends, and Pitino often said while at SU, “Jim will be at Syracuse forever.” Pitino also attended Boeheim’s first wedding, and remembered Boeheim watching the New York Mets game while it was time to cut the cake.Now 66, Pitino has compiled one of the most extensive resumes in the game. He’s a three-time Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year and a one-time National Coach of the Year. He led his teams to seven Final Four appearances (two were vacated), as well as the 1996 national title at Kentucky and the 2013 vacated national title at Louisville.In September, Pitino visited the place that set him up for his first head-coaching gig. At the Carmelo K. Anthony Center, he spoke with SU about leadership, strong defense and Boeheim, his son, freshman guard Buddy Boeheim said. Players were mesmerized to speak with a college hoops legend who got his start in Manley Field House. Pitino also grabbed a bite with Boeheim and SU associate head coach Adrian Autry at Varsity on South Crouse Avenue.Former Syracuse players, including forward Roosevelt Bouie and guard Dale Shackleford, characterized Pitino as a hard-charging coach. They recalled his two main qualities: Intensity and enthusiasm, a byproduct of a coach who wasn’t much older than his players. He installed an aggressive man-to-man defense before the Orange switched to the 2-3 zone. Some games, Syracuse pressed for 35 minutes. They trapped ball-handlers and tried to prevent in-bounders from easily entering the ball into play.Daily Orange File PhotoPitino compiled extensive scouting reports on teams and player tendencies, former players said. He once told Shackleford about a Providence guard who favored his left hand. Make him go right, Pitino urged him that week. Shackleford listened, and he held the player neutral. “He really emphasized that offense comes from defense,” Shackleford said. “He was energetic, great at breaking down a player, motivating you, and he loved pressure defense. He wanted us defending up in players’ chests and cutting off every passing lane. He hated losing and was emotional. A blue-collar coach for the blue-collar team that we were.”Once during a game, in a timeout huddle, Pitino broke convention and spoke up. Boeheim turned toward him. “Rick, shut the hell up,” he told him. “I was like, well, we know whose team this is,” Bouie said. Pitino’s formative years as a coach were similar to his years as a well-known head coach, when he’d pounce up and down the sideline and yell instructions across the court. Vocal and demanding, he wanted Syracuse players to replicate his own energy. He demanded they practice and play with his vigor. A no-nonsense coach, Pitino banned behind-the-back passes. He told players they were too flashy. He also discouraged players from dribbling the ball between their legs. “No, no, no!” he told them when he saw what he declared a flashy move.Yet one day, Bouie, a former SU center, was walking through Manley Field House to grab a drink before a class at noon. Practice was four hours away, and the coaches were playing pickup basketball. Pitino, who didn’t know Bouie was watching, was dribbling behind his back and between his legs. “He had more moves than anyone,” Bouie said. “He was telling us not to do all of that, yet there he was, dribbling all over the court.” Comments Published on February 20, 2019 at 12:28 pm Contact Matthew: mguti100@syr.edu | @MatthewGut21center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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