The wistful years of Rick Pitino

ATLANTA -- It was almost like an initiation rite -- borderline hazing really. Fresh meat Rick Pitino, hot off an NBA assistant coaching job alongside Hubie Brown, walked into his first coaches meeting as a Big East boss and directly into a buzzsaw.

Jim Boeheim and P.J. Carlesimo had set him up, directing Pitino to question the merits of Rollie Massimino's plan to unequally distribute the money from a league ball contract. Pitino's background from the pros, his relationship with Brown, they told him, would make Pitino the ideal person to question whether Massimino's plan was fair.

"Well he goes off on me like you wouldn't believe,'' Pitino said. "He's calling me a f----ing whippersnapper, saying you came here like some hotshot from the pros. Exactly the opposite of what they've told me.

"Well then he says something that set me off, and I go back at him. 'Who do you think you are? F--- you. You've won one f---ing national championship.'''

That was Rick Pitino in 1985 -- fiery, combative and happy to pick a fight.

This is Rick Pitino today: On Sunday, the day before his Louisville team plays in the national championship game, he sat down for his required media session. Most coaches, paranoid or paralyzed with game planning, itch to get off the dais and back to their team.

It felt like Pitino would have been happy to talk forever, his press conference more a wandering monologue that spanned topics as varied as the state of college basketball, the problems with the summer-league game and frequent trips down the memory lane of his own career. Only occasionally was there a prod about how to stop Michigan.

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