Matt Jones at KSR has this piece today on Traitor Rick, and even though some might wonder if I have been giving Matt lessons on how to write lengthy diatribes scolding this person or ripping that issue, I can assure you that I have not.
If you read this site long enough, you will know that I like to occasionally gig our ex-coach, referring to him as "Traitor Rick" and so forth. I loved Pitino when he was here, and I was sorry to see him go, although like most UK fans, I was fed up with the constant NBA flirtation. No amount of water under the bridge will change the fact of Pitino's success here, and the fact that he was widely beloved of the Big Blue Faithful. I feel somewhat differently about him today, but I still think he is a good coach, although my affection for him is considerably muted from times past.
Matt takes Pitino to task for his handling of the Derrick Caracter situation, as Rick Bozich did the other day. The whole affair was surely Pitino at his self-serving worst, and I'm sure (well, maybe not sure, but hopeful) that he knows he has dinged up his shiny armor as a disciplinarian pretty significantly. This paragraph from Matt's post is unquestionably the high point of his piece:
This says it all, and says it really well. That's exactly what happened, and it is hard for me to remember a worse performance by Pitino, save perhaps the whole Rodrick Rhodes affair. I consider that to be the ultimate sacrifice of ethical principles on the altar of success. But that was a long time ago.
In the instant case, I would only take exception to one thing Matt wrote, further up in the column:
Now that's absolutely true, but I get the impression, right or wrong, that Matt is drawing a distinction between Kentucky and Louisville here, and if so, I think it is a distinction without a difference. Tubby Smith was known for recruiting players who would be here for four years. The UK fan base hated that, judging by the uproar on the message boards and from comments made directly to me. College fans and boosters at universities around the nation, including at Kentucky, are demanding top talent be brought in regardless of their academic qualifications or intentions to stay. If they are eligible and talented, that is enough. It has become all about winning, and academic all-Americans are nice for Harvard and Princeton, or perhaps Minnesota, but they rarely win national championships.
I don't see a distinction to be drawn here between Louisville and UK, or North Carolina, UCLA, or even Duke. All these schools would love to have über-talented rocket-scientist wanna-be basketball players come to their university, but they seem to be in very small supply these days. 100% of your most talented, program-changing athletes intend to spend no more time in college than absolutely necessary before jumping to the Association and getting what Cuba Gooding Jr. called in Jerry McGuire, "The big, sweet dollars."
So while Pitino certainly deserves exactly what Matt gave him, let's not delude ourselves into thinking Kentucky is different, especially not the Kentucky of today. When Pitino was here, he was selling the same thing he is selling now -- the NBA. That's one of the things that helped make him so successful here. The fact that he hasn't been able to translate that to Louisville says more about the fundamentals of their program than it does Pitino, in this writer's opinion. I doubt Cardinal fans would agree, but then again, I have never claimed to be an unbiased observer.