April 9, 2013 in Sports

Pitino leads class into Naismith Hall

Jim O’Connell Associated Press
 

ATLANTA – Rick Pitino got the phone call of a lifetime and an incredible text at the same time.

Last Wednesday, John Doleva, president of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, called seven people to tell them they’re in the class of 2013.

Pitino was one of them.

“When I got the call I was trying to call my wife over so she could hear it and I’m trying to put it on speaker phone and a text keeps beeping as I’m getting this special call,” Pitino said. “I saw the text. ‘Go Gophers. I got the job.’ ”

It was his son, Richard, who had just found out he was chosen to be the head coach at Minnesota.

It’s been that kind of week for Pitino, among 12 people overall who will join the class of 2013.

The others announced Monday were college coaches Guy Lewis of Houston, Jerry Tarkanian of UNLV and Sylvia Hatchell of North Carolina, former NBA stars Bernard King and Gary Payton and former University of Virginia star Dawn Staley.

The inductions will take place in Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 8.

Payton was known as “The Glove” for his defensive prowess in his years with the Seattle SuperSonics. He was a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

“I was an offensive-minded guy when I went to Oregon State and coach Ralph Miller pulled me to the side and said ‘You’ll be one of the greatest defensive point guards ever’ and I said to myself ‘Yeah right. I’m shooting every time I get the ball.’ I got really good at it and started liking it and took it from there,” Payton said.

It was Pitino, however, who stole the spotlight.

On Saturday, Goldencents, a horse Pitino co-owns, won the Santa Anita Derby, a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby.

“I was looking around for lightning,” Pitino joked. “This was such a special moment.”

Pitino, the only coach to take three schools to the Final Four, has won 662 games in 28 seasons as a college coach and his 48-16 record in the NCAA tournament is the third-highest winning percentage among active coaches.

He also had stints in the NBA with the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.

When he was a young assistant with the Knicks from 1983-85, Pitino forged a relationship with King, one of the most feared scorers in his playing days.

“I remember Rick as a very young coach, a coach starting his career, a coach who knew the game,” said King, who averaged 22.0 points in his 15-year NBA career, including averaging 34.8 points in the 1984 NBA playoffs. “… I guess you can say this is the culmination of my life in basketball.”

Lewis led Houston to five Final Fours in his 30 years with the Cougars. His teams featured future Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler, Elvin Hayes and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Tarkanian took three schools to the NCAA tournament but is best known for his UNLV teams that made it to four Final Fours and won it all in 1990.

Hatchell is one of three women’s coaches to record 900 victories.

Staley was a three-time Olympic gold medalist, a five-time WNBA All-Star and two-time national college player of the year.

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