Hartman: Gophers' Pitino brings his own team to the Garden

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 28, 2014 - 1:00 AM

The Gophers coach spent many hours in Madison Square Garden when his dad led the Knicks, Louisville.

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Louisville coach Rick Pitino, left, shakes hands with his son Richard Pitino.

Photo: Timothy D. Easley, Associated Press

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For Richard Pitino, taking the Gophers basketball team to New York’s Madison Square Garden to face Florida State in the NIT semifinals Tuesday has to be a dream. As a young kid and a young coach, he spent a great deal of time there with his father, Rick Pitino, who coached the NBA’s New York Knicks and led Louisville into several Big East tournaments there.

“My dad was the head coach of the Knicks [from 1987-89] and an assistant coach for the Knicks [1983-85],” Richard said. “We had great moments [when I was] an assistant coach [at Louisville]. We won some Big East tournaments. There’s no better place in all of college basketball to play than Madison Square Garden. … We’re going to play in Madison Square Garden next year [for the preseason NIT], but there is something about earning a spot to get to the Garden that is pretty special.”

Pitino also has some bittersweet non-basketball memories from being in New York.

“When I was growing up, my family and I would always go to New York for the summer,” Pitino said. “My uncle, Bill, who we lost on 9/11, was like a second father to me and we would visit him every summer.”

Pitino on Hollins

Pitino said the things he’ll miss most about senior guard Austin Hollins, who had maybe the best game of his career in scoring 32 points in an 81-73 victory over Southern Miss on Tuesday, are his attitude and work ethic.

“He was struggling in the middle of the [season],” Pitino said about Hollins. “He wasn’t making shots, and he had gone cold for a while. He just kept going with it. He didn’t give up no matter what. When we went on the road and he was just awful — when he came back here the next day in practice and he could easily have tried to hide — and he was the loudest guy, the most vocal guy.

“I think we’re going to miss him, basketball aside — and there’s a thousand-point scorer and when he’s rolling, he’s really, really good — but just the intangible part of it. When he walks into the gym, and not that the other guys are really bad, but you know he’s going to bring it.”

Pitino appreciates the chance to keep playing in the NIT semifinals and reward the continuous effort players such as senior guard Maverick Ahanmisi and sophomore forward Joey King have shown during an up-and-down season.

“These guys work so hard every single day,” Pitino said. “Maverick, and I said it from Day 1, he didn’t play, but he kept working hard. The normal thing to do would have been to somewhat revolt, but instead he saw the big picture and now he is playing well and he wants to keep playing. Joey King is like Austin in the work ethic category, and he’s starting to play well and get great confidence. It’s twofold because those guys that are going to be here next year, you want them to end on a good note.”

What would it mean to win the NIT?

“This is Year 1, and I’m putting in a whole new stamp and a whole new culture and it’s just different,” Pitino said. “It doesn’t mean the old way was bad and my way is right, but as you continue to build in Year 1, to get to 23 wins and to have an opportunity to play in the Garden [and] to continue to try to hopefully win a championship with a lot of guys back next year is huge for our program.”

Dutcher produces

Brian Dutcher, son of former Gophers basketball coach Jim Dutcher, was the subject of an article in the Los Angeles Times a week ago in which he was described as a “basketball genius.”

Dutcher, now an assistant to San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher, was also an assistant for Fisher at Michigan from 1989-1997 when they took three Wolverines teams to the NCAA finals and won the title in 1989.

Dutcher has been an assistant to Fisher at San Diego State since 1999, and the Aztecs have gone to the NCAA tournament six times since then. They have defeated New Mexico State and North Dakota State team to reach this year’s Sweet 16.

His contract guarantees him the San Diego State head coaching job when Fisher, 69, decides to retire.

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