Richard Pitino: Like father, like son ... to a point

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 4, 2013 - 6:49 AM

Richard Pitino followed his father into coaching basketball, but he has learned from other mentors along the way as well.

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On a July day at Nike’s Peach Jam AAU event in South Carolina, father and son — head coach and head coach — sat side by side, each with the same leg crossed over knee, each with their hands clasped in front of them.

They spoke with the same Long Island accent. Their laughs displayed the same symmetry; their jokes, the same dry humor and sharp wit. If you were to catch them coaching on the sideline in an intense moment, their faces would contort in impressive congruity beneath near-identical hairlines.

Yes, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino is Rick Pitino’s son — obviously and unapologetically so.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Was it tough being Rick Pitino’s son?’ ” Richard said. “And it’s not. I’m extremely proud to be his son. I’m extremely fortunate to be his son. I embrace it every single day. I would be silly to hide from it.”

Hide, he doesn’t. His father, the coach at Louisville and a two-time national champion, is his longtime inspiration and closest confidant.

Now 17 months and two jobs away from last working for Rick, Richard still communicates with his dad on a near-constant basis, talking basketball and talking life.

“We probably text 30 to 40 times a day,” Rick said. “And talk [on the phone] at least once or twice.”

When Richard Pitino accepted the Minnesota job this spring, Rick got the first text message — quickly scooting off a call with officials from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to call his son.

In his office at the University of Minnesota, Richard’s walls are studded with framed pictures of him and his father. At Louisville, when the Cardinals went to the Final Four in 2012 and when they won the championship this year. At the Kentucky Derby this spring, when one of Rick’s horses raced. And on the golf course — one of the places they both can relax.

But if you really want to know who Richard is, you can’t stop at the physical similarities. The most notable traits the son shares with the father are his fierce dedication and desire.

Coaching roots

Rick Pitino always had wanted to name a son after himself.

But when his wife, Joanne, gave birth to their first, she refused.

When the second came, she allowed it as a middle name.

For the third, she gave in entirely.

That one became the coach.

As a toddler, Richard pushed and kicked basketballs around Madison Square Garden as his father, then an assistant coach for the New York Knicks, conducted practices. When Rick took the coaching job at Kentucky in 1989, a middle-school-aged Richard went to Memorial Coliseum every day after classes. In the summers of his high school years, Richard would leave Massachusetts to tag along on road trips with his dad’s Celtics, claiming Chauncey Billups as his favorite player until his father — inexplicably, in his young son’s eyes — traded the guard.

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  • Richard Pitino sat alongside his father, Rick, in March 2012, when Louisville beat Cincinnati for the Big East tournament championship. That Louisville team advanced to the Final Four, and after the season, the younger Pitino left for his first head coaching job.

  • First-year Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino waited with his players to take the team photo at Williams Arena last week. The 31-year-old son of Rick Pitino is taking over a Big Ten program with only one previous year of head coaching experience, last season at Florida International.

  • Gopher head coach Richard Pitino watched the action on the floor during the first half of the Gopher's scrimmage at Williams Arena in Minneapolis Min., Friday, October 18, 2013. ] (KYNDELL HARKNESS/STAR TRIBUNE) kyndell.harkness@startribune.com ORG XMIT: MIN1310181959568155

  • The Pitino family gathered at the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans, when Richard was a Louisville assistant under Rick. In the back row are Richard’s sister in law, Bethany, and his brothers Mike, Chris and Ryan; in front are Richard, daughter Ava, sister Jacqueline, mother Joanne and father Rick.

  • Pitino talked to Gophers point guard Deandre Mathieu during Friday night’s exhibition opener, a 79-57 victory over Cardinal Stritch.

  • Richard Pitino began coaching basketball while he was a student at Providence, working as an assistant at a nearby high school. He would also drive to Holy Cross to watch Ralph Willard run practices.

  • Richard Pitino encouraged his players during Friday night’s game against Cardinal Stritch.

  • gophers men’s basketball Season opener: 7 p.m. Friday vs. Lehigh • Williams Arena • No TV (1500-AM)

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2014 season     
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