“Pitino: My Story” by Rick Pitino with Seth Kaufman
Basketball, college, professional, memoir, Kentucky, Louisville, Providence, Knicks, Celtics, coaching
September 4, 2018
4 of 5 stars (very good)
When Rick Pitino was fired as the coach of the Louisville Cardinals in 2017, it was considered to be just the beginning of the exposure of a major scandal involving shoe companies and college basketball. Add this problem to Pitino’s earlier scandal involving one of his staff members allegedly hiring prostitutes to engage in sex with potential recruits and it is easy to dismiss Pitino as a scandal-ridden coach despite his excellent record and national titles at both Kentucky and Louisville. Pitino tells his side of the story and more about his coaching career in this captivating memoir.
While the book starts off about with discussion of his firing, it follows Pitino’s coaching career from an assistant coach with the NBA’s New York Knicks and continuing through head coaching jobs in college in Providence, Kentucky and Louisville with stops in New York (again) and Boston to coach those professional teams. With the Celtics, he was also the general manager, a move he regretted as he believed he couldn’t have done both jobs properly.
No matter the stop, Pitino shares his coaching stories with reverence for players and staff at each one. It seems like he had regrets any time he left a job for another one, with the possible exception of the Celtics. His success, however, in every place (except, of course, Boston), is well known as well. Pitino seems to be most proud of what he accomplished at Providence, where he took a program with very little success to the Final Four in 1987 out of the powerful Big East conference. He also talks about a player whom he made work to earn his way to the starting lineup, Billy Donovan. Donovan not only became a star on that Providence team but coached the University of Florida to consecutive national titles.
Of course, Pitino talks about the scandals and also gives the reader a good explanation of how shoe company money has infiltrated basketball. This is true not only at the college level, but also in the grassroots/amateur level as money is paid to coaches, teams and schools for player to exclusively wear their brand of shoes and gear. Pitino admits to taking this money at Louisville, but in the context that all schools do this to some degree and that the money eventually DOES help the schools. While plausible, this explanation can leave the reader asking just what he is trying to say about this issue. Pitino also spends much time questioning the investigation process done by the Department of Justice, often repeating a phrase that an investigator used by calling himself and the Louisville athletic director “collateral damage.”
One other aspect of this investigation and his subsequent firing from Louisville that is interesting is his claims of a partisan board of directors at Louisville did not dismiss him fairly. While he implicates the governor of Kentucky in this because he made the appointments for this board, the partisanship is not Democrat versus Republican, but instead the University of Kentucky versus Louisville University. Because Pitino claims that the board was loaded with either graduates or partisans toward Kentucky, he didn’t stand a chance because of the fierce rivalry between the two schools. While it makes for great reading and one can be swayed by the persuasiveness of the writing, it does have an air of unbelievability.
The other major scandal that affected Pitino was one that was the topic of a book in which a woman claimed a staff member on Pitino’s staff was luring recruits by offering sex by prostitutes, some of whom were underage. On this topic, his beliefs about what really happened seem to contradict. On the one hand, he questioned the woman’s allegations, could not possibly believe his employee could engage in such illegal behavior and provided many other people who said that this activity never took place at the dormitory where these parties allegedly took place. Then, later in the book, he took responsibility for hiring this employee and that if this did happen, he has to take some of the responsibility. This took me by surprise because if it did happen, and he provides plenty of information that would seem to make the whole story a fabrication, why would he take a fall for this?
Because this book presents only Pitino’s side of the story, the context has to be taken into account as unbalanced. It is refreshing to hear this side as there has been plenty written about the accusations and investigation. In the end, this book will probably not sway the reader one way or the other if his or her mind has already been made up. But if a reader wants to read this side of the story or just learn more about Pitino’s coaching career, then this is a good book to pick up as it is a quick and mostly entertaining read.
I wish to thank Diversion Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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