SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WDRB) -- It took Rick Pitino a long time to reach the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. On his way into Springfield's Symphony Hall for Sunday's Enshrinement Ceremony, a fan yelled out congratulations, and told him it was overdue.
Pitino waved. But as he made a speech to a crowd that included Larry Bird, Pat Riley, Jerry Colangelo, John Havlicek, his fellow inductees and a veritable Who's Who of basketball, Pitino had another thought.
"I really, looking out there, don't know what the heck I'm doing here, to be honest" Pitino said. "The people in this room just blow me away. The prowess on the court, the prowess on the sidelines is incredible. Coaches don't get in the Hall of Fame. Players put them in the Hall of Fame. And I've had a great journey."
Flanked by Hubie Brown and Dick Vitale, who presented him, Pitino took the crowd on that journey through anecdotes and lessons he learned in a 17-minute speech that wrapped up the program.
At Boston University, he said, "I learned how to build the right way."
He talked of his days there, with training meals at pizza joints, riding buses to every road game and the small crowds at home. "We gave away champagne at a midnight madness," he said. "Nine drunks showed up, and no one else." His Boston U players, at a party Saturday night, told him something he didn't know. They told him they called him "Pop." He said he was amazed, because he was only two or three years older than they were. Then they told him it was an acronym, and stood for "Prisoners of Pitino," for their marathon practice habits in the days before the NCAA passed its 20-hour rule. During his speech, he said, "Don't talk that way too much, because of recruiting."
At Providence, Pitino said, "I learned how to dream. I always thought anything is possible after coaching that team."
Pitino paused to talk a bit more about his time at Kentucky. He called it "eight years of Camelot" and said, "I never had a bad day at Kentucky.
From UK, Pitino said, "I learned all about pressure every, single day. It was unbelievable pressure and it was very difficult and that pressure brought out the best in everybody."
"I'm very, very thankful to those Kentucky players," Pitino added, "because that's the reason I stand here today."
After appearing to skip over his time with the Celtics, Pitino went back to it. From that franchise, he said, "I learned more than I gave. . . . I learned patience and humility."
And finally, Louisville, the longest stop in his career, Pitino said, "taught me for 13 years what a family is all about. I've learned so much throughout the years, and I'm continuing to learn. . . . My best friends are the AD (Tom Jurich), SID (Kenny Klein), business manager (Kevin Miller), equipment manager (Vinny Tatum) and executive (Jordan Sucher). They're my closest friends in life. They taught me what it is to develop a home and stay."
Pitino called his family "the greatest team I've ever coached, without question."
Afterward, he said the only time he worried about getting too emotional in the speech was when he mentioned his two sisters in law, who lost their husbands.
He said his goal going into the day was to thank all the people he should thank. Afterward, he expressed satisfaction that he had.
"I don't know if Forbes 500 measures a man how wealthy a man is in friendship," Pitino said. "But I'm the Warren Buffett of friendship, with all the friends I have."
It was a difficult task for Pitino, all the thank-yous. But it was up to his friends and colleagues to describe his place in the basketball landscape, and his significance at his various stops. A short time after the ceremony, former President Bill Clinton Tweeted his congratulations.
C.M. Newton, who hired Pitino at UK, said Pitino "meant everything to Kentucky. Had we hired the wrong person at that point in time, we'd have gone the way of UCLA. Instead, he gave us instant credibility."
Dick Vitale noted Pitino's innovations, his embracing of the three-point shot, his willingness to use full-court pressure and ability to play a 10-man rotation.
"He stayed ahead of the game, and still is," Vitale said. "He should have been in the Hall of Fame long ago. I've been pushing him for years, and I'm thrilled to see this day."
Jurich said he was pleased by Pitino's tribute to Louisville, but that he's more pleased that Louisville is Pitino's last stop, and his longest.
"He passed the praise on to everybody else, and that's the type of person he is," Jurich said. "It was an honor to be in the room."
After the enshrinement, Richard Pitino, walking out of the hall while his father was still posing for pictures, said, "You see everybody around here, and it's all the greats of the game. Then you realize, he's with them, he's one of the greats of the game."