Richard Pitino earned his first victory against his Hall of Fame father on Sunday as New Mexico beat Iona 82-74. Rick Pitino hates to lose, but he couldn't have been prouder of his son.
"We had our chances," Rick said after the game. "We didn't come through on those chances because New Mexico is an excellent basketball team. Very happy for Richard. Very proud of him."
The Lobos are now 11-0, and although they haven't been ranked in the AP Top 25 this year, they have started getting votes.
"Richard knows how to handle it, but the one piece of advice for this team is: Don't embrace it. Get better," Rick said. "Get better, take what you did wrong and get better. Because as quickly as you are climbing that mountain, you get knocked right off of it."
Rick Pitino’s advice for his son after New Mexico beat Iona and improved to 11-0: “Richard knows how to handle it, but the one piece of advice for this team is: don’t embrace it. Get better.” pic.twitter.com/eVJKkYfOD8— Isabel Gonzalez (@cisabelg) December 19, 2022
New Mexico used to be at the top of the Mountain West Conference, but the program has seen some down years recently. Richard is in his second year at the helm and has been looking for ways to get fans excited about the Lobos again. Sunday's game was part of a home-and-home series that got set up because the Gaels were looking for a team near the West coast to play on their way to the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii.
Richard asked his father to play the game because he saw this as a good opportunity to bring a high-profile opponent to The Pit and get a good crowd for the Lobos. His plan worked.
A crowd of 14,534 fans showed up, which was the largest for the Lobos since the 2015-16 season. It was a loud environment and some fans even got noise alerts from their smartwatches. Rick said crowds like that make New Mexico hard to beat. The Lobos were able to feed off the energy and saw five players score in double figures. Senior guard Jaelen House led with 22 points, along with four rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Rick was so impressed with him that he jokingly said that, in different circumstances, he would have offered him a scholarship.
Richard was grateful for the crowd, but he has especially grateful for his father.
"Extremely appreciative of my father and Iona to come to play this game. He did not need to do it. He was trying to help out his son," he said. "That goes a long, long way with everybody when we can fill this thing up again. Very grateful."
New Mexico head coach Richard Pitino’s opening statement. He said he is “extremely appreciative” his father and Iona agreed to the game:— Isabel Gonzalez (@cisabelg) December 19, 2022
“He did not need to do it. He was trying to help out his son. pic.twitter.com/gzO0kSJkOJ
The Pitinos have their similarities and differences, just like any other father and son. Rick wore a suit, while Richard, who has a more toned-down personality, chose a red pullover. However, both of them share a competitive spirit. Before the game, Rick said he taught his son to be a tough competitor and therefore expected Richard to want to beat him by 30.
The score wasn't that dramatic, but Richard is now 1-2 in the all-time series against his father. However, that stat doesn't really matter to either of them.
"It's not about beating my dad. I'm lucky my dad would play here because we benefited," Richard said. "That's a nationally televised game he did not need to play ... Happy we won, but I don't look at it as I beat him. I look at it like New Mexico beat Iona."
The father and son had dinner plans after the game and were ready to resume cheering on each other's teams for the rest of the season.
Basketball is a big part of the Pitino family, and the next generation is already embracing it. During the television broadcast, Richard's 8-year-old son, Jack, was seen cheering loudly for the Lobos. He had predicted that New Mexico would win 85-79 -- although he initially said 100-0.
Richard said it brings him joy to see his kids embracing basketball. Growing up with Rick Pitino as his dad, he saw the ups and downs of working in the industry. He wants Jack to keep having fun with it but joked that the young fan might eventually have to learn some tough lessons.
"He does need to know we are going to lose. Hopefully not soon," Richard said. "He also needs to know that the student section trash-talking can't carry over to third-grade basketball. We've had a couple of issues there as well."