For new Gophers coach Richard Pitino, tonight will be much different from one night almost a year ago.
Then, Pitino was in his first stop as a head coach – at Florida International – learning on the fly about all the distinctions the top job brings. All the ways it was different from assistant life.
On November 11, 2012, he walked out onto a court in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, to lead his FIU team – which didn’t play public exhibitions -- in front of a crowd for the first time.
“I legitimately remember walking out my first game at Boston College and going ‘Oh my goodness, what am I doing?’” Pitino said, reminiscing. “It’s really, really hard to train your mind to react a certain way until you’ve done it.”
The limelight, he was more than used to. After a combined five years under his dad at Louisville and under Billy Donovan at Florida, Pitino was no stranger to the big stage. But things are different as head honcho.
“You don’t know how to work the officials,” Pitino said. “You’ve never done that before as an assistant coach -- you’re sitting on the bench, trying to stay out of their way. What do I do if this guy gets a foul? What do I do if this guy all the sudden is acting crazy? I can’t stop a game like I do in practice all the time. How do I keep my mind right if something goes wrong?
“Those are things that, it’s experience, it’s invaluable.”
Thirty-two games later, he has some.
Now, the 31-year-old has a season’s worth of head coaching experience under his belt and has grown into his coaching skin, a little bit. He enters Friday’s season opener against Lehigh more established. The bright lights of the moment have faded to a hue that is entirely manageable and Pitino feels comfortable.
“I’m nervous for every game,” he said.
Pitino noted that the biggest difference at Minnesota was the raised court, of which he has commented about the stool – “Everywhere I turned it was in my way – it was following me” – and the proximity of the bench – “Your staff feels so far away” -- but he’s had a pair of exhibition games to get used to the new set-up this season.
“So exhibition games are good for our players, but also good for me,” he said.
A few other notes on tonight’s game:
- Flying in to witness his first game as the head coach of Minnesota will be his mother – Joanne Pitino – his uncle and his brother, Chris Pitino.
- Keep an eye on the Gophers fouls – Lehigh is the first real driving team Minnesota has faced, and thus will present the first real test for the Gophers restraint in regards to the new touch fouls being called.
- Expect the same lineup as we saw in the two exhibitions: Deandre Mathieu, Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, Oto Osenieks, Elliott Eliason. Pitino said he does not plan to change it.