Rick Pitino. A true legend, a person who left his mark with his knowledge, his attitude and, of course, his great ability as a coach. He came to Greece as an experiment and in a short period of time, Pitino managed to claim himself as a great favourite at Panathinaikos.
In an interview full of answers, the Hall of Famer reveals the reason that made him return to the States and make statements about Dimitris Giannakopoulos, Argiris Pedoulakis and the greek people, who loved him.
In addition to that, Pitino talks about the new players who came to OAKA during the last months and especially about Jimmer Fredette, who «will love playing alongside Calathes».
Here's the interview:
-Coach, do you miss Greece?
«I really miss the players, coaches and the staff at Panathinaikos»
-Why didn't you come to Greece on vacation? Is the summer better in America?
«No, it has nothing to do with it. I’m spending time with my family and revisiting old friends».
-Are you following Panathinaikos? Have you been reading the news?
«Yes, of course. I’m in contact with the coaches and Manos. Shooting needed to be addressed and they acquired outstanding shooters. I’m very excited for the future of this team».
-Which signing do you think is more attractive?
«Jimmer Ferdette is the 3pt threat that is so needed. Wes Johnson is a veteran NBA player who has great experience. Αlso the backup point guard is excellent. Ι was involved with the front court about Wiley. The team is much better offensively and will be difficult to stop. Get ready, Nick Calathes will set an assist record».
-Now that you have taken your time, you have relaxed and have thought of everything that you experienced in Greece and Panathinaikos, are there any times that you regret your decision?
«Not at all. I wanted to return in the worst way but my one year old grandson has a rare genetic disorder where only 300 people in the world have it. I’m trying to help the family find every possible doctor who can give answers and help fund raise to find a cure. It’s a form of epilepsy called SCN8A. It will take a little time but giving my son emotional support at this time is so important. I will jump back into coaching next spring».
-You know, the Panathinaikos fans were very disappointed that your answer was no.
«The fans made be feel like family and I’m so appreciative of that».
-So if something goes wrong with Panathinaikos, you can come back on 2020...
«I’m rooting hard for the current head coach n the team . I’ll be following them on Flo sports here in the states. Everyone from Paris ( equipment manager) to Dimitri treated me with great respect and that is something I will always treasure».
-Some people beleive that you didn't get the budget to win the Euroleague. Is that true?
«Well Dimitri is losing millions of dollars each year. I asked him why he does that. No one in the states would do it and I really appreciated his response. He said "I do it for my Dads legacy n for the fans". I admire that very much. This years team has the ability to do great things . Yes it’s not the budgets of the Spanish, Turkish or CSKA but that doesn't always spell success»
-Have you talked to anybody from the team lately? With Giannakopoulos, Manos, someone else maybe?
«I text with them all the time. I was on FaceTime with Nick Calathes the other day. Texted with Ian and Nikos Pappas. Was hoping to visit with Nikos in New York but he got delayed with rain. Awesome group of players as people. Miss them. Aggelos Kotaridis is like a younger brother to me. so I’m always speaking to him, too».
-Is Giannakopoulos a tough guy (to get along with)?
«I had very little contact with him . He lost his Dad and two Uncles in a short period of time. He said I had his total support and let me do my thing».
-What is your opinion about the new coach, Argyris Pedoulakis?
«He is Panathinaikos inside and out. He’s also has the toughness to handle adversity. Good Man!».
-A few days ago I interviewed Manos Papadopoulos and when I asked him about what Rick Pitino left behind his answered was this: "I have been in basketball for 30 years and I thought I had seen everything. Until I saw Pitino"...
«Well that’s a nice compliment! We had a great relationship. I leaned on him a lot. He’s the type of person you want to be with in a foxhole!»
-Rick Pitino taught Greece basketball, good behavior, but what did he learn?
I learned about a country with incredible history. I enjoyed the people and culture so much . I was even treated great by Olympicos n Aek fans. And the way people talk about that, I was extremely lucky. Greeks are very similar to Italians. Family first and very passionate and loving people».
-Do you know that there is a new government and that they say they will immediately apply a non smoking law in the arenas?
«Haha, I’m getting on the next plane! That’s such a great thing. Very unhealthy for children and the athletes. And I want my Greek friends to have great health».
-Now that you know Panathinaikos roster, do you think that the shooting problem has been solved with players that have abilities outside the 6.75?
«Yes it’s tough to win without great shooters in today’s game. All the needs have been solved»
-What can Fridette do? I am asking, because it is a big name, but Greeks haven't seen him play in high level as he didn't make it in the NBA.
«He’s a great offensive player and a lethal scorer , he will love playing alongside Nick. He could have played in the NBA just wasn’t going to get a lot of minutes».
-Is it true that he was the first player you asked form Giannakopoulos on your meeting?
«Yes I suggested we sign him, he was a priority»
-Did you talk to Wesley Johnson before they signed for Panathinaikos?
«Yes I did talk with him and told him how much I liked Greece and Panathinaikos».
-Can Johnson make an ideal duo with Papapetrou at 3? What do you think he can give?
«Haven’t seen him play in a long time but another good scorer with a great attitude. Two outstanding wings and Pap can also play some 4».
Panathinaikos obtained some NBA staff during the last months. You know, in September they will have a Jumbotron in OAKA...
«Panathinaikos has great tradition and an incredible fan base. The NBA has 5 star facilities. Because of the financial crisis it’s tough for Greece at this time to improve facilities».
-Panathinaikos hasn't played in the Final Four for seven years. Will they make it this year?
«Well they have enough offensive firepower. We improved a lot last year putting up great numbers. A strong toughness was developed. We have to stay healthy and play great defense. Nick is a great captain and leader. They will be in the thick of it all season».
-Do you know that Olympiacos was relegated in second division because they refused to play against Panathinaikos?
«Yes I do. Τhose forfeits were so confusing to me. Never experienced anything like that before».
-Was it your toughest moment in the six months you spent in Greece?
«It sent a bad message to young athletes and it was not good for our game. The integrity of our sport is very important and matters like that should be addressed in the off season. I have the utmost respect for the coach and the players of Olympiacos».
-With all this rivalry you experienced, would you ever go to Olympiacos?
«I was part of the rivalry Kentucky/Louisville-wanted to go back n live in Kentucky. It was a poor decision. Although I respect Olympicos, I could never hurt Panathinaikos and Dimitri».
-You were involved in a legal dispute... And you paid for it. Does that mean that in NBA and college basketball everything is clean?
«I was exonerated by the recent trial but to be honest I never had any involvement with that in the first place. My lawsuit against Adidas and the University is still pending. Always take something good away from adversity. I got to spend 6 months with wonderful people».
-Where did you watch the match Greece-USA in 2006? Were you surprised seeing Krzyzewski lose by Diamantidis pick n' roll?
«I remembered. Great upset! Wonderful execution».
-Can the Americans lose again this time because of the absences?
«When the Greek freak is on your team , anything is possible!»
-So do you believe that Americans are not invincible any more?
«The Americans have the deepest most talented team and certainly will be a big favorite. But they will face really good teams who have a great understanding of the rules».
-What is the weak point of the Greeks players? The athleticism or the will to work?
Νο! Awesome attitudes and great desire to represent their country and their team the correct way. Ian, Nick, Pap, PG, Nikos, Thansis , if that is what Greek athletes are like them, I’m a buyer! Send me a thousand of them! Love them!»
Coach, I'm very thankful for this lovely conservation. Can Panathinaikos fans hope to see you again in Greece? And not for holidays...
«Like I said, Panathinaikos and Greece has a big place in my heart, but I want to see this coach have great success. If they are winning, I hope to visit them this winter. Go PAO!»