clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Pitino Bashing, But Is It Unfair In This Instance?

It’s hard to point to Rick Pitino as the face of corruption when you’re writing books with John Calipari and lionizing him.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Purdue
Nov 28, 2017; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Purdue Boilermakers fans hold up a Rick Pitino sign during a game against the Louisville Cardinals during the first half at Mackey Arena.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

We happened to be in Barnes & Noble the other day (remember when everyone was worried that Barnes & Noble would simply use scale to crush local bookstores? Then came Amazon. But we digress...) and happened to see a new book called “The Last Temptation of Rick Pitino.”

Leafed through it and passed.

No great love for Pitino; it just didn’t catch our fancy.

Turns out the author, Michael Sokolove, has worked with Kentucky’s John Calipari on two books.

About Pitino he says this: “Pitino says, ‘How could I have known about it?’ That’s the wrong question. ... The real question is, ‘how couldn’t you have known about it?’ And, why didn’t you know about it since you’re this street-wise New Yorker who claims to know everything that goes on till it’s convenient not to know it?”

About college basketball in general he says this: “You’ve got billions of dollars coursing through college basketball and a tiny percentage of it goes to the athletes. Yes, the scholarships are important, but we’re talking massive amounts of money. And it breeds cynicism. And it breeds street agents and runners and people who buy and sell young athletic flesh.”

But about Calipari he says this: “I know one of Cal’s fears was he might be perceived as one of the puppet masters behind this book. This book has nothing to do with Cal. ... I’m proud of the books I’ve written with Cal, and I value my friendship with him. But this is my book.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if college basketball is as corrupt as he says (and he may be right), wouldn’t a big-time school like Kentucky likely be fairly corrupt too?

Bashing Pitino is easy these days but Calipari has always had a reputation - deserved or not - for cutting corners and practicing situational ethics when it comes to the NCAA manual. He coached two teams that were forced to vacate their Final Four appearance. If Pitino had to know about the stuff that happened at Kentucky, then Calipari had to know that there was some funny business that saw Rose fail his college entrance tests three times in Chicago, but pass them easily in Detroit.

There’s clearly corruption in the game but it’s not like it stops at the Lexington city limits.

On a slightly different note, if you scroll down here you’ll see a passage about the Duke-Kentucky game in the 1966 Final Four where a letter writer says that “[i]t’s probably the only time I can say I wish all-white Duke had beaten [all-white] Kentucky in the Final Four.”

What he's alluding to is the long shadow that the loss to Texas Western in the 1966 NCAA championship game has cast over Kentucky basketball. Texas Western started five blacks; Kentucky started five whites.

Texas Western won and Kentucky lost not only the game but history as well and is the last segregated team to play for the title. Fairly or not, legendary UK coach Adolph Rupp has been cast as a racist ever since.

But would Duke have lost? Hard to say. Consider this though:

That Kentucky team was known as Rupp’s Runts and started no one taller than 6-5.

The Miners weren’t much bigger though. David Lattin started at center at 6-6 and Willie Cager was just 6-5.

So how would Duke have matched up?

Duke had Jack Marin, who along with UK’s Pat Riley would prove to be one of the best two players to come out of that Final Four. Marin was a 6-6 forward. Mike Lewis was a very burly and athletic 6-7 center.

Bob Reidy started at the other forward at 6-6.

The backcourt was also very good, with Steve Vacendak and Bob Verga. Vacendak was a real tough-guy who we were told once went up to block a dunk - with a fist. Spiked it like a volleyball.

Verga was a freakishly good shooter with immense range. In the modern game, with the three point shot, he would have been a lethal weapon like JJ Redick.

Duke had huge offensive output from Marin, Verga and Lewis and a reasonably good bench.

Would the Blue Devils have beaten Texas Western? We’ll never know of course. Verga got quite sick before the UK game and Duke couldn’t pull it off without him.

A healthy Verga would have made things much more interesting to say the least.

You can’t rewrite history obviously, so all we can do is speculate. So all things considered, Kentucky is welcome to it.

If you're going to shop Amazon please start here and help DBR
Check out our October '17 t-shirt! || Drop us a line