“I think when you coach at Kentucky, you have the premier job in college basketball — in terms of he can recruit any player he wants, he has unbelievable facilities, he’s gonna win his 30 games every year, and he’s got the best job in all of basketball,” Pitino said in an interview with New York Post columnist Steve Serby. “So, I’m not sure why he would ever want to have a job that’s not the best job in all of basketball. He’s smarter than me when it comes to that.”
Pitino, recently hired as the coach at Iona, led the Wildcats an NCAA title and a runner-up finish in his seven seasons in Lexington before leaving to become President and Coach of the Boston Celtics in 1997. Pitino compiled a 219-50 mark at Kentucky and then went to Louisville following a short stint in Boston.
After getting the job at Iona, Pitino expressed an interest in playing a series against Kentucky and pitched the idea during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show last week. He said an ideal scenario would be to play the Wildcats at Madison Square Garden in the future.
"I would love to schedule Kentucky in the Garden in the Jimmy V Classic,” Pitino told Patrick. “I think that would be a great draw and that would be exciting to see, and I hope John (Calipari) would entertain that."
After he got the job at Iona, Pitino said Calipari called to congratulate him on his return to the sidelines, but neither talked scheduling. Calipari said a game at Rupp Arena is more of a possibility than Madison Square Garden because of the current schedule is “so wacky.”
“Neither one of us talked — he didn’t talk schedule. I didn’t talk schedule,” Calipari said of his phone conversation with Pitino. “I saw Dickie V go crazy about it, having us play there. I would imagine having Iona come to Rupp would be something that would be considered and I would expect our fans to be positive as they always are. They were even positive when we got beat by Evansville, so if we did that — and I’m not saying we will. We have one of the toughest schedules and the crazy thing is, it’s not enough.”
Pitino had Kansas, Gonzaga, Dayton and possibly Kentucky as his Final Four picks before the NCAA Tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If they would (have) put Kentucky in the East I would have gone with probably Kentucky, because they were really starting to play better,” he said.
Although his run at Louisville was tarnished by a recruiting scandal, Pitino said he wants to be judged by “ the people I coached, and the people that worked under me.”
“If you want to know what I’m all about, call up Mark Jackson, call up Billy Donovan, call up Jeff Van Gundy, call up Francisco Garcia, Jamal Mashburn.” I’ve been in business with Jamal Mashburn for over 30 years together, and he played for me. Call up the people that played for me. Then call up the 30 assistant coaches that are head coaches that worked under me. And let me be judged by them.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.