Column: Maybe the best week a coach ever had

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 09, 2013
Ncaa_basketball_louisville_a01e
Someday soon, Rick Pitino is going to have to explain the tattoo to his grandkids. But first, he's going to tell them the story of how getting into the Hall of Fame might have been only the second best thing that happened to him on a serendipitous Monday in April. Because barely 12 hours after Pitino became a member of one of the most exclusive clubs in sports, he did something no college basketball coach had ever done. He won a second national championship as Louisville beat Michigan 82-76, a victory that made him the only coach to take two different schools to the top of the heap. It came 17 years after Pitino's 1996 Kentucky team, a squad loaded with nine future pros, won in a walkover. This team was less about pure talent and more about grit. Their story begins with Luke Hancock, who recovered from a devastating shoulder injury and made all five of his 3-point attempts to earn the final game's most outstanding player. In what was only its latest display of unity, the team rallied around Kevin Ware, whose season ended 10 days with a gruesome broken leg as he came down at the edge of the court trying to block a shot in last weekend's regional final. Ware was the first guard off the bench and his absence put more pressure on starting guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, who already log plenty of minutes making Louisville's press so effective. ''Probably the 13 toughest guys I ever coached,'' Pitino said afterward. Now, we'll find out if the coach is as tough as his guys. As payback for the title, Pitino promised to commemorate their tenacity by getting a tattoo. ''They said if you win the national championship, coach, you are getting a tattoo. I said, `Hell yeah,''' the 60 year-old coach laughed. ''I'm getting a tattoo. I owe them.'' And there's no chance they'll forgive the debt. ''I told some reporters he should get a lower back tattoo. He said, `Does it sting?' I said, `I don't know, I don't have any tattoos,''' said Siva, who is heavily inked. ''I don't have any tattoos, either,'' Hancock chimed in. ''But we have a couple ideas. I don't think he knew what he was getting into when he signed up for that one.'' Frankly, deciding which of the events of the last week of Pitino's life to etch into his skin won't be easy. He's on such a run at the moment that you'd be tempted to tell him to rush out and bet on a horse. But hold that thought, because Pitino has already done that - and naturally, his horse won that race, too. Just last Saturday, a thoroughbred he owns by the name of Goldencents captured the Santa Anita Derby, one of the most important prep races on the road to the Kentucky Derby. And just a few days before that, his son, Richard, moved into the top flight of his father's profession, leaving Florida International to take over at Minnesota. So when Pitino blinked beneath the confetti splashing down from the roof of the Georgia Dome and said, ''I've had the greatest life,'' you got the sense he wasn't kidding. ''I knew this game would be a great game. Two great offensive teams doing battle. Two great backcourts, great front courts, great talent. I was so happy to see that because I knew it would be a great game. Didn't know we'd win,'' he said, ''but I knew it would be a great game.'' This latest stretch, like so much of what Pitino accomplished, wasn't about luck or simply finding great players. It was Pitino's ability to knit this group together into a relentless defensive unit, to convince them the only way to run opponents ragged was to run themselves ragged first. If you want to know how successful a salesman he is at selling the team concept, ask Ware. ''You would think we all came out of the same womb,'' he said. Ware's absence meant everybody had to log more minutes, but their commitment never wavered. Louisville's constant-motion defense Monday night enabled the Cardinals to crawl back from 12 points down in the first half against the Wolverines, one of the best offensive teams in the game. That was after Louisville came back from 12 down against Wichita State in the semifinal just two nights ago. But they've been doing that to plenty of opponents this season, closing deficits of 10 points or more an incredible seven times in all. ''It's just amazing,'' Siva said. ''Kevin was playing such a big part. For him to go down and everyone to rally around him turned out to be a blessing.'' But only one of many in a week that Pitino will never forget. Just in case he does, well, there's always going to be that tattoo to remind him. --- Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

McCarthy discusses 'urgency’ to win another title with Rodgers

Report: Lions extend CB Darius Slay with $50 million deal

Adam Jones: Bengals dominated Steelers in playoff game

Robert Griffin III on QB battle: Only one of us runs 4.3

Gordon defends friendship with 'good friend' Manziel

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Geno Smith ‘kind of pissed off’ about Ryan Fitzpatrick’s return

Bell admits he knew about missed drug test, lied to media

Report: Chargers rookie Joey Bosa to hold out of camp

Doc Rivers blames ‘bloggers’ for Blake Griffin trade rumors

Jason Peters: Eagles practiced too much under Chip Kelly

Report: Giants’ Victor Cruz cleared to practice

Crowell still making amends for controversial Instagram post

Report: LeBron urged Justin Bieber not to perform at RNC

Luck refutes Matt Hasselbeck’s assertion he never showers

Newspaper editor explains use of Jordan meme for MJ article

Five NFL teams set to underachieve in 2016

WATCH: Belichick gets annoyed by Jimmy Garoppolo question

Ronda Rousey denies being pregnant despite rumor

Eight most overpaid offensive players in NFL

Giants acquire All-Star Eduardo Nunez from the Twins

Vikings QB injured trying to kick open door

Josh Gordon thankful for support from Browns

Report: Seahawks DE Chris Clemons retiring

College Basketball News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Everything that's already gone wrong at the Rio Olympics

Amar'e Stoudemire's presence (and absence) changed the NBA

We asked Team USA: What other Olympic sport would you play?

Why Gary Bettman's CTE denial is cause for concern for NHL

WATCH: Inside the Nike SNKRS BOX in SF for Golden Air Celebration

WATCH: Five other uniforms Chris Sale should cut up

QUIZ: Name every Olympic event in which the USA has never won a gold medal

Five U.S. Olympians favored to win multiple gold medals

WATCH: What teams should join the Big 12?

One Gotta Go: Do NBA players really love NBA2K?

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker