NEW YORK – Hours before the Gophers swarmed the Madison Square Garden court, decked out in smiles and championship T-shirts, coach Richard Pitino sat in an uptown Manhattan steam bath with his father.
Rick Pitino, the legendary Louisville coach, flew to New York on Monday to watch his son coach his Gophers in the NIT semifinals. Now 36 years into his coaching career, the elder Pitino has nearly done it all. He has two NCAA titles. He has seen his share of celebrations, and he knows how contagious such achievements can be.
He told Richard, who is in his first season with the Gophers and his second as a head coach, how much an NIT title later that evening would mean so early in his career.
"What a thrill it would be if you win this," Rick told his son. According to the father, Richard rolled his eyes. "He said, 'Thanks, Dad.' "
The thrill came. The Gophers beat Southern Methodist. The nets came down.
Along the way, the young Gophers coach seemed to feed off a little of the energy swarming just behind the bench. Rick Pitino was one of several family members who made the trip, including Richard's mother, Joanne, and his younger brother, Ryan.
"It means a lot, not just my dad but my whole family," Pitino said. "My mom being here, my wife, my in-laws, my uncles, aunts, everybody being behind the bench. It was a lot of fun."
The elder Pitino, in particular, was especially animated throughout the game, waving his arms and shouting at players. He looked primed to hop across the row of seats and onto the floor, if necessary. A few times, Richard turned back to share a word.
"I saw little Coach P look back at him a couple of times to ask for a little bit of advice," point guard DeAndre Mathieu said. "I mean, when you have a legend, why not use him?"
Richard Pitino later had a good laugh. "I get paid enough," he said, "to coach this game by myself."