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Rick Pitino: Victim of his own success -- at Kentucky

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:

We all know the next act. Louisville plays badly against Purdue on Saturday, loses again.....Pitino comes to the media touting the changed person that is Derrick Caracter and welcoming him back on the team. The move was as important as it was blatant, and Caracter became a Card yet again. I admit that I was shocked when the move occurred, mostly because even I didnt think Rick could embody all of his worst traits so fully in one action. We had Rick the drama queen, standing up in front of the media, touting all that Caracter had done wrong one week and all that he had accomplished the next. We had Rick the self-promoter, telling us all that he has done to try and save Caracter and teach him to become the man that he can be. We had Rick the truth-bender, telling the media he would be out for some time one week, changing his mind the next and having the utter audacity to argue that the decision had nothing to do with the Cards' on-court performance. And maybe worst of all, we had Rick the victim, throwing his hands in the air as if to say "what can a coach do when the kids act like this?"

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:

Programs such as Louisville have long ago stopped trying to make any connection between athletics and academics, as seen by their decision to bring in players who, at most, want to be at the University for 1-2 years and have absolutely no interest in an education outside of the hardwood.

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.