Pitino, Tark, others inducted into Hall of Fame

By Matt Norlander | Staff Writer

Louisville coach Rick Pitino was the headline inductee at Sunday's HOF ceremony. (USATSI)
Louisville coach Rick Pitino was the headline inductee at Sunday's HOF ceremony. (USATSI)

Rick Pitino's unforgettable, unprecedented year hit a high point over the weekend when he was one of 12 people officially inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

"Coaches don't get in the Hall of Fame," Pitino said during his induction on Sunday. "Players put them in the Hall of Fame and I've had a great journey along the way."

This year alone has brought a most memorable journey. Pitino has won a national championship, donned a tattoo as a result of winning that national championship, had his son, Richard, win the job at Minnesota, seen a horse of his win big and make the Kentucky Derby, had his face put on a Maker's Mark bottle ... and become friends with Pitbull. And, oh yeah, his team will be favorites in the new American Athletic Conference for the upcoming season. Louisville is assembled to be Final Four-good yet again.

And, of course, this achievement, which was officially announced at 2013's Final Four weekend, shortly before Pitino got that second national title of his career. Early in his professional life Pitino earned his due at Boston University before going on to Providence College, coaching the New York Knicks, then leading Kentucky to a resurgence of national power in the 1990s. Then it was back to the NBA to coach the Celtics, where he was fired before going back to college one final time, with Louisville, where's he's spent the past 12 seasons.

Pitino took Providence, UK (which locally gave its former coach some love) and Louisville to the Final Four, the only coach to bring three programs to college basketball's ultimate weekend. He had Hall-of-Famers Hubie Brown and Dick Vitale introduce him.

"At BU, you learn how to build the right way," Pitino said during his induction speech. "At Providence, I learned how to dream. I always thought anything is possible after coaching that team. At Kentucky, I learned all about pressure every single day. It was unbelievable pressure and it was very difficult and that pressure brought out the best in everybody."

Pitino wasn't the only big college coaching name who was inducted. Eighty-three-year-old Jerry Tarkanian, the man who brought Vegas a national title in 1990, was enshrined, as was 91-year-old Guy Lewis, who coached those classic Houston teams in the '80s that featured Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. Lewis made five Final Fours, though never won a title.

Tarkanian, who was as known for his public disdain/battles with the NCAA nearly as much as his coaching success, long had supporters who rallied for his inclusion into the Hall of Fame. Tarkanian, amazingly, made it on stage despite recently undergoing heart surgery and needing a walker to get about.

Others inducted Sunday: Gary Payton, Bernard King, former Knicks guard Richie Guerin, former NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik, UNC women's coach Sylvia Hatchell, WNBA All-Star Dawn Staley and former Brazilian player/Olympian Oscar Schmidt. He and four-time ABA All-Star Roger Brown earned posthumous honors.

One more tidbit, via the Associated Press, that was great. Pitino's most memorable quip will likely, ironically, end up being from his time coaching in the NBA. You know the one. Losing while trying to rebuild the Celtics, Pitino scolded any disappointed fans and/or media that many legendary Celtics weren't "walking through that door." Well ...

" On Sunday, while Pitino posed for photos before the ceremony, a blonde-haired Bird showed up. "He finally walks through the door, and I said, 'What took you so long to walk through that door?' And he said to me, 'You don't want me now,'" Pitino said, grinning.

Terrific. He also got a shout-out from a former President.

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