Rick Pitino will sign 1,000 pieces of the NCAA Final Four floor to help raise $250,000 for Kosair Children's Hospital.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The plane takes off for Philadelphia Wednesday. Then it will carry Rick Pitino back to Indianapolis Thursday morning and on to Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Augusta, Ga. for the weekend.
Recruit and run, recruit and run. Nothing changes that formula, even a fresh national championship banner.
Pitino has three oral commitments for the 2014 recruiting class, but if he wants to keep the University of Louisville basketball team ranked in the top five beyond the coming season he must find two jumbo-sized guys who can rebound. That explains the Philadelphia-Indianapolis-Myrtle Beach-Augusta shuttle.
Then it will be back to Louisville to keep doing what Pitino has been doing this week: utilizing the eight hours per week that he's allowed to work with his players.
He loves Chris Jones, his guard from Northwest Florida State College. Loves his toughness. Loves that he's relentless. Loves that Jones is not retreating from anybody, including his new teammate and wayward moped driver Russ Smith. (Pitino said that it will take more than a moped accident and tender shoulder to slow Smith.)
"It's special to watch them go at each other in practice," Pitino said. "They both bring their own brand of toughness – New York toughness for Russ, Memphis toughness for Chris."
Pitino will never stop celebrating what his U of L basketball team achieved when the Cardinals won the NCAA title in Atlanta last April. He'll turn 61 on Sept. 18, a little more than a week after he is officially inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
You can have a great team and not have a great finish to your season. He understands that better than he understood it when Pitino won his first NCAA title at Kentucky 17 years ago. So it's healthy to enjoy the moment.
It is also healthy when others enjoy it with you. That is why Pitino was eager to participate in a project organized by Northwestern Mutual insurance company that will benefit the pediatric cancer unit at Kosair Children's Hospital of Louisville.
The plan is a simple as a good pick-and-roll. Northwestern Mutual purchased the floor from the 2013 NCAA Final Four at the Georgia Dome. A jumbo-sized piece from center court soon will be framed and displayed in the lobby at the KFC Yum! Center.
The remaining pieces are on their way to souvenir shops. They will be available in multiple sizes starting in October. Pitino will sign 1,000 18 by 12 pieces priced at $500. Prices have not been set on the other sizes. The Kosair Pediatric Care unit will benefit.
Kentucky fans contributed more than $200,000 last year for a similar project that utilized the floor from the national title the Wildcats won in New Orleans in 2012. The goal this time is to raise $250,000.
Pitino was all in from the moment he was asked to participate. He and his wife, Joanne, lost an infant son, Daniel, when Pitino coached at Providence in 1987. Pitino said the project has become more rewarding as he has learned several stories from the 650 children who are being treated at Kosair.
"When I found out what the cause was behind it, I got very excited," Pitino said. "I know it sounds like a lot of pieces to sign, but it's really not. I would sign 2,000 or 3,000, if need be."
Pitino would like nothing better than to make certain there will be another Final Four floor to autograph in 2014. He has told his players to celebrate. He did not tell them to stop working.
Stephan Van Treese, his senior frontcourt player, has added 15 pounds of upper body strength. Montrezl Harrell won a gold medal on the U.S. 19-and-under team in Prague and showed Pitino that he's a legitimate candidate to play center next season.
Committed? Harrell played in the Czech Republic Sunday night and was scheduled to practice with the Cardinals Tuesday afternoon.
Kevin Ware's fractured leg should be completely healed by next month, and Pitino expects Ware to be ready to play in October.
"I'll tell you right now this is a very, very strong backcourt," Pitino said. "Chris Jones is everything we've heard. He's been very, very good in practice. (Terry) Rozier and (Anton) Gill have been outstanding. Practices have been outstanding."