It proved to be true.
Pitino made perhaps his worst decision when he marginalized Red Auerbach, taking over as president of the Celtics. The resentment of that still burns in Boston.
“Oftentimes,” Carlisle said, “greatness is polarizing.”
Pitino will be enshrined in Springfield for the 662 wins he has amassed in Division 1 basketball. It is for the seven Final Fours he has reached. It is for that national title. And it is for the full-court press that Pitino has used to great advantage throughout his college career.
“It was my own laboratory,” Pitino said of his BU days. “I could make all those mistakes trying to put a pressing, running style at the age of 24, and nobody would notice what I was doing wrong. So for five years I got to tinker, tinker. By the time I got to be assistant coach of the Knicks, head coach of Providence, I had a system I believed in.”
But it was before that, when Pitino was an assistant at Syracuse, that Carlisle could see the seeds of greatness. Carlisle, who credits Pitino’s influence as the basis of his desire to become a coach, recalled basketball camps in the mid-’70s, when Pitino would go one-on-one with campers.
“He would pick the guy in camp who was the best player out there, and he would rip the guy to shreds,” Carlisle said. “He would score on him every time. He would talk trash to him. And then when he was on defense, he would strip him every time.
“It was an illustration of the kind of competitive fire that he had. It was glowing hot, and it still is today.”
Pitino is having a good week. On top of the Final Four appearance and the Hall of Fame news, his son, Richard, was hired as coach at Minnesota. And his horse, Goldencents, is running in the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday.
Asked about his momentous week, Pitino laughed.
“I don’t think those four can happen,” Pitino said. “I just would love to see the national championship one happen.”
So far, Pitino has two of the four. And two to go.