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Pitino returns to college

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2001

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Rick Pitino's debut as Louisville's coach was noisy and colorful.

Wearing a pinstriped black suit and a shimmering gold tie, Pitino appeared out of the north tunnel at Freedom Hall to a standing ovation about two minutes before the Cardinals tipped off Sunday night against South Alabama.

Pitino was hired in March to replace Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum. Pitino resigned two months earlier as coach and president of the Boston Celtics after 3 1/2 unsuccessful seasons.

He popped a breath mint before dropping a red towel and sinking to one knee in front of Louisville's bench as the game began.

Pitino applauded from a baseball catcher's stance as Erik Brown converted an early steal into a fast-break layup. Seconds later, he screamed at Ellis Myles for not getting back on defense.

All part of an impressive start that resulted in Louisville leading 47-15 at halftime.

Pitino has never lost a college debut, winning his first games at Boston University, Providence and Kentucky before Sunday's game.

Pitino was coaching his first college game since Arizona beat Kentucky in the 1997 NCAA championship game. The Cardinals played an exhibition game on Oct. 31, Pitino's first game of any kind since Jan. 6, when he coached his final game with the Celtics.

His first Celtics' team also won his debut, beating Michael Jordan and the Bulls 92-85 in 1997.

Thoroughbred horse trainer Nick Zito and PGA Tour player Billy Andrade, two of Pitino's closest friends, were in the sellout crowd.

The Cardinals employed Pitino's trademark full-court pressure from the start, and led 8-0 in the opening two minutes with the help of six South Alabama turnovers. The lead reached 19-0 before Adam Salow ended South Alabama's drought with a 3-pointer with 11:56 left in the first half.

Neither the presence of his friends nor the early runaway did much to change Pitino's demeanor, however. He remained intense, yelling at referee John Clougherty in the half's final minute for calling a turnover on his team.



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