Read my full game story on the Gophers' 65-63 win over Southern Methodist tonight here.
Before Austin Hollins' final shot in maroon and gold -- a spine-tingling half moon and the kiss of death for SMU; Before the Gophers swarmed at mid-court with their friends and families, decked out in smiles and 'NIT Champions' T-shirts; Before Minnesota cut down the net, Richard Pitino sat in an uptown Manhattan steam bath with his father.
Rick Pitino, Louisville's current coach, had flown to New York on Monday to watch his son participate in the NIT semifinals and with Tuesday's win, the finals. Thirty-six years into his coaching career, the elder Pitino has nearly done it all. He's coached two NBA teams, four college squads and picked up seven Final Four appearances, two NCAA tournament titles -- including last year -- and a Hall-of-Fame induction along the way. He'd seen his share of celebrations and knew how contagious such achievements were.
He turned to his son, who is in his first season at Minnesota and his second as a head coach, and waxed on about how much a victory later that evening would mean so early in his career.
"What a thrill it would be if you win this," he said.
According to the father, Richard rolled his eyes. "He said 'Thanks dad.'" said.
No pressure was evident later that evening, when Pitino and the Gophers dispensed Southern Methodist.
But perhaps the coach fed off a little of the energy swarming just behind the bench. Rick Pitino was one of several family members that made the trip including Richard's mother, Joanne and his younger brother, Ryan.
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 back there look back at him a couple of times to ask for a little bit of advice," DeAndre Mathieu said. "I mean, when you have a legend, why not use him."
Richard Pitino later laughed.
"I get paid enough to coach this game by myself," he said.
With one Hall-of-Famer in his corner, he bested another. SMU's Larry Brown is the only coach in history to win both an NCAA tournament title (Kansas; 1988) and an NBA title (Detroit Pistons; 2004). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
"I've got unbelievable respect for him, his passion for the game," Pitino said. "He's as sharp as it gets. Every time we switched defenses, he sniffed it out right away."
Even more significant, though, was the success in front of his family, and the man who egged him on earlier that day to notch such an accomplishment, so early.
"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."