Rick Pitino is primed to become the first coach to win NCAA men's basketball titles at two schools on Monday night.
ATLANTA (WDRB) – This is the kind of Hall of Fame treatment Rick Pitino received while parking his University of Louisville basketball team one game from the 2013 national championship:
On Saturday night, after U of L defeated Wichita State in the semifinals, Pitino retreated to his suite in a Buckhead hotel with friends Rick Avare, Ralph Willard, Micky Sortel and the Cardinals' assistant coaches.
The Michigan-Syracuse game was on television. As usual, Pitino sat with a notepad. He jotted ideas in persistent pursuit of an edge that U of L could exploit in the final game against the Wolverines Monday night. But the group needed food. A room service order was placed around 11 o'clock.
They waited. And waited. And waited. No food.
The visitors departed for their rooms about 1:15 a.m. About 2 a.m. there was a knock on Pitino's door, one that awakened the coach and his wife, Joanne.
"ROOM SERVICE," the voice announced.
"Room service?" Pitino answered. "We ordered that food more than two hours ago. What am I going to do with seven cheeseburgers at 2 in the morning? There's nobody here."
So don't say that everything has gone Rick Pitino's way over the last week because it hasn't. His son, Richard, was named the head coach at the University Minnesota. Pitino received the phone call confirming that he will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September.
His friend, Jeff Walz, coached the U of L women's team into the NCAA Final Four. His 3-year-old colt, Goldencents, won the Santa Anita Derby, a major prep for the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs
Monday night at the Georgia Dome, Pitino and Louisville are favored to defeat Michigan for the national title. That would bump Pitino into an exclusive club. He would be just the 14th coach to win at least two titles. But Rick Pitino would be in a Nick Saban-like room of his own because no other coach has won the NCAA basketball championship at two schools.
And the man couldn't get a room-service cheeseburger?
"It took a long time to gain humility," Pitino said. "If I had one regret in life, it wouldn't be what you think. It's that I wasn't more humble at an earlier age."
Life has enriched – and humbled – Pitino. Depending upon when you started following the Rick Pitino Story, this Hall of Fame/Bookend National Titles weekend is something that he was A) destined to achieve or B) an opportunity that he had fumbled.
At 35, Rick Pitino was called The Next Great Coach. Before Pitino hit 60 last September, he was also called The Coach The Game Had Passed By – and a million things in between. Cue the post-game call-in shows from the California (2010), Morehead State (2011) or South Florida (2012) defeats for details.
He's been pursued by the Lakers and fired by the Celtics. He's gone to the Final Four at Providence and lost in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament three times at Louisville. He's been loved and then hated (Kentucky) and hated and then loved (Louisville) by the same group of fans.
Life roughed Pitino up with the loss of his infant son, Daniel, at Providence in 1987 as well as the death of his brother-in-law and best friend, Billy Minardi, in the September 11 tragedy at the World Trade Center. When it appeared that he had Louisville rolling toward greatness in 2009, his team melted down as the tournament's overall Number One seed and then his life became a surreal and stinging tabloid tale.
But Rick Pitino has never been boring, never surrendered and never stopped believing that he could do great things.
"There's nobody as resilient as Rick Pitino," said Willard, one of Pitino's closest friends as well as a guy who has worked for him with the Knicks, UK and Louisville.
"You might knock him down, but you're not going to run him over. He's not going to let that happen. He was never motivated by what people were saying about him. He was motivated by defeat, getting back up and accepting a challenge. Even when he's down, Rick has an amazing ability to get back up and focus on the big picture."
The big picture is this: Rick Pitino has never been more relevant and formidable than he is today. He's about to prove he can do at 60 what he did at 43.
The work that he has done putting this team together and coaching the Cardinals to 34 victories ranks with any work he did at Boston University, Providence, the Knicks, UK or the Celtics.
Pitino has shown he can take guys that everybody wanted (Peyton Siva, Chane Behanan), guys that a few people wanted (Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith) and guys that nobody wanted (Luke Hancock, Tim Henderson) and build a team that plays the best defense in the nation and uncovers unusual ways to win games. Some nights it's turnovers and layups. Other nights it's three-point shots. Every night it's entertaining.
He jokes and kids and laughs with his players more than he ever has, coaching like a guy who understands how precious seasons like this season truly are.
"You really have to believe in your faith," Pitino said. "I don't care what I face, I can fight it."
Rick Pitino has fought it, all right – all the way to the brink of history Monday night in the Georgia Dome.