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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Rick Pitino remembers the training meals at the pizza place where his Boston University teams ate more than 30 years ago. Even Hall of Famers have to start somewhere.
That obscure beginning provided a foundation for a coaching career that took him to two NBA teams and three other colleges, all reaching the Final Four and two winning NCAA championships.
“Coaches don’t get in the Hall of Fame,” Pitino said Sunday at his induction. “Players put them in the Hall of Fame and I’ve had a great journey along the way.”
It started for him as a head coach in 1978 just 90 miles east of Springfield Symphony Hall, where the ceremony was held for him and 11 other honorees. He had to “learn the trade from the bottom” at Boston University, Pitino said. There were those “training meals,” he said, and the time when champagne was served at Midnight Madness.
“Nine drunks showed up,” he said, “and no one else.”
He spent five years with the Terriers, then two as an assistant with the New York Knicks before spending the next two as head coach at Providence, leading the Friars to a surprising berth in the Final Four. He kept moving — two years as head coach with the Knicks, eight with Kentucky, four with the Boston Celtics and the past 12 with Louisville.
Just five months ago, he led the Cardinals to the championship.
“At BU, you learn how to build the right way. At Providence, I learned how to dream. I always thought anything is possible after coaching that team,” Pitino said during his 20-minute speech, the last of the day. “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.”