Pitino on Billy D

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Florida coach Billy Donovan and Louisville coach Rick Pitino served as keynote speakers for the Dick Vitale’s V Foundation College Coaches gala. The event again raised more than $1 million for cancer research.

Before the event, Pitino offered some comments about his protege and his son joining the Florida staff as an assistant coach.

On his son, Rick Pitino Jr., leaving Louisville and joining the Florida staff as an assistant:

“It was the toughest conversation I’ve ever had with any coach, now my son and I told him, you know, you’ve done an unbelievable job for me. I think he’s one of the best young recruiters in the game. But I told him, you have the same exact first name, the same exact last name and you have the opportunity to work under someone I love, somebody that’s going to teach you an awful lot, great place and you can do your own thing. You’ve been around me since you were a little kid, you’ve sat on the Knick benches, the Celtic benches, the Kentucky benches and you’ve been around basketball all of your life. It would be a great treat. He would not have done it under anybody other than Billy Donovan. So to me it’s just an unbelievable treat to have him with Billy.

“He is the best recruiter I’ve had work with me and I’ve had some great ones. Now he’s young a coach so he’s still learning, he did an unbelievable job in scouting but he’s the best young recruiter I’ve seen. And he does it the right way, he does it with great humility and he does it obeying every rule.”

On initially talking Billy out of accepting the Florida position in 1996:

“(Florida athletic director) Jeremy Foley doesn’t tell the true story of that. The true story is Billy was only at Marshall at two years and I had seen a lot of programs down but in terms of talent coming back this was as down a program as I’ve seen. I told Billy you’ve got a great career ahead of you, don’t kill yourself, because right now it’s going to take you three years before you even think about winning and they are not going to give a coach a long time.

“I hung up the phone and exactly two minutes later Jeremy Foley called me up and said I understand you’re trying to talk Billy out of taking this job and I said no Jeremy, Billy doesn’t play for me anymore, he makes his own decisions. I said you’ve got a bad situation right now in terms of talent. And he said, what if I pose this question to you, in three years from now, would Billy Donovan be one of the hottest young coaches in the game of basketball. And I said no question about it. He said how about I give him three years to become one of the hottest coaches and then four years so he catches up talent wise, what would you say now. I’d say, take the job Billy. And so I called Billy up and I said he sounds like a great guy and take the job if he’s going to give you that long a time to coach then he understands the dilemma that you are in. So that’s the true story. I didn’t talk him out of it. I just wanted him to go into a positive situation. Jeremy gave him the time and now Florida is synonymous with greatness in basketball as well as some of the other sports.”

on whether Pitino would schedule another Florida-Louisville series (the two schools played back-to-back years in 2003 and 2004, with Louisville winning both games):

“I don’t think so. We would do that certainly if it was a tournament or something like that. I just root for him so hard. I say this and I really meant it, I got more gratification, personally, not for the program, not for the guys, when he won the championship then when I won the championship (with Kentucky in 1996). I felt better inside. We loved it, 96, it was great for the players and the fans. But I went down to the floor and hugged him (in 2006), I felt prouder at that point than I did when I won it in 96. It’s a great feeling to see him win it. Like I told him the other night, I said you know you’re going to go down in history, you’ve got to understand this, back-to-back championships, we can count on them on one hand, who has ever done it. He’ll try to do it again like everyone else tries to chase that dream again, but Florida right now is synonymous with greatness because of his arrival.”

on Florida going to back-to-back NITs after the two national titles.

“Billy has not gone through a down cycle yet. He’s gone through a rebuilding cycle, but when you win 24, 25 games, it’s not a down cycle. You remember the history of Florida in basketball, and to get to the NIT and win 24, 25 games would not be for Florida a down cycle.

“What it is is rebuilding. And it’s tough to rebuild sometimes when players just continually leave. He’s doing it the right way right now. He’s got really some good young players. That’s why I wanted my son to go with him, I felt my son could be a great addition to that staff because he is a relentless recruiter, relentless. He got me with the best young players in the nation and we’ve had great success”