Last Wednesday, John Doleva, the president of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, called seven people to tell them they’d in the class of 2013.
Pitino was one of the seven.
“When I got the call I was trying to call my wife over so she could hear it and I’m trying to put it on speaker phone and a text keeps beeping as I’m getting this special call,” Pitino said Monday, just hours before he led Louisville against Michigan in the national championship game. “I saw the text. ‘Go Gophers. I got the job.’”
It was his son, Richard, who had just found out he was chosen to be the head coach at Minnesota.
It’s been that kind of week for Pitino, who is among 12 people overall who will join the class of 2013.
His Cardinals are in the championship game and a win would make him the first coach to win a title at two schools. He won it all with Kentucky in 1996.
On Saturday, Goldencents, a horse which Pitino co-owns, won the Santa Anita Derby, a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby.
“I was looking around for lightning,” Pitino joked. “This was such a special moment.”
Pitino, the only coach to take three schools to the Final Four, has won 661 games in 28 seasons as a college coach and his 47-16 record in the NCAA Tournament is the third-highest winning percentage among active coaches.
Pitino will be joined in the class by former NBA stars Bernard King, Gary Payton, and Richie Geurin, former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, North Carolina women’s coach Sylvia Hatchell, former Houston coach Guy Lewis, former Virginia star and current South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, E.B. Henderson, Brazil superstar Oscar Schmidt, and Russ Granik, the longtime assistant commissioner of the NBA.
Pitino also had two stints in the NBA with the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.
When he was a young assistant with the Knicks from 1983-85, Pitino forged a relationship with King, one of the most feared scorers in his playing days.
“I remember Rick as a very young coach, a coach starting his career, a coach who knew the game,” said King, who averaged 22.0 points in his 15-year NBA career, including averaging 34.8 points in the 1984 NBA playoffs. “I remember Rick came with me to the NBA All-Star game and we were flying from Denver to San Antonio. We talked a lot about that even though we had some injuries we had to get off to a good start.
“That first game in San Antonio I scored 50 points. The next day in Dallas I had a milk shake and a turkey sandwich and scored 50 points again. I guess you can say this is the culmination of my life in basketball.”
Payton was known as “The Glove” for his defensive prowess in his years with the Seattle SuperSonics. He was a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
“I was an offensive-minded guy when I went to Oregon State and coach Ralph Miller pulled me to the side and said ‘You’ll be one of the greatest defensive point guards ever and I said to myself ‘Yeah right. I’m shooting every time I get the ball.’ I got really good at it and started liking it and took it from there,” Payton said.
Lewis led Houston to five Final Fours in his 30 years with the Cougars. His teams featured future Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler, Elvin Hayes and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Tarkanian took three schools to the NCAA tournament but he will always be known for his teams at UNLV that made four Final Four appearances and won it all in 1990.
Hatchell joins North Carolina men’s coaches Dean Smith and Roy Williams as Hall of Famers. She is one of three women’s coaches to record 900 victories and she has won national championships on three levels — AIAW, NAIA and NCAA.
Staley was a three-time Olympic gold medalist, a five-time WNBA All-Star and two-time national college player of the year with the Cavaliers. She is the only player in women’s college basketball to record 2,000 points, 700 assists and 400 steals.