Editor's Note: Three legendary college basketball coaches -- Jerry Tarkanian, Rick Pitino and Guy Lewis -- take center stage this weekend as the trio is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. We'll be devoting a day to each as we examine what made them HOF-worthy. Here is Tuesday's tribute to Pitino.
During his career, Rick Pitino has earned two national championships, led three schools to the Final Four (only coach in Division I history to achieve that) and won 664 games.
The soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach has also molded some of the most talented athletes in recent college basketball history. Here is my take on the top 10 college players Pitino has coached, while my colleague Eamonn Brennan counters with his own list:
Tony Delk, Kentucky: If we’re just talking collegiate production, then Delk deserves this slot. He averaged 17.8 points per game during the 1995-96 season and 14.2 ppg throughout his four-year career at Kentucky. Pitino had multiple (future) pros on that 1996 national title team, but Delk was that squad’s best player, especially in the postseason. He was a consensus All-American, SEC Player of the Year, and the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Jamal Mashburn, Kentucky: He didn’t win a title, but he anchored one of Pitino’s most important Kentucky squads. The 1992-93 Wildcats reached the Final Four, where they lost by three points to Michigan and the Fab Five in overtime. Mashburn, a consensus All-American that year, scored 26 points (10-for-18) in the game. That achievement provided more evidence that Kentucky would be a player on the national scene again following a crippling scandal under former coach Eddie Sutton.
Antoine Walker, Kentucky: In recent years, he has been plagued by highly publicized financial problems. But Walker was a star in his prime. He was the MVP of the SEC tournament as a freshman in 1995. And he averaged 15.2 ppg for the Kentucky squad that secured Pitino’s first national championship in 1996. Walker was a member of the all-SEC first team that year, too. He stayed only two seasons but they were some the most fruitful individual of Pitino’s career.
Reece Gaines, Louisville: Last season, Dwyane Wade called Gaines the best player he faced in college. That’s how good the Wisconsin native was throughout his four years at Louisville. Gaines didn’t fulfill his potential after he was picked 15th in the 2003 NBA draft. But he was a beast in Pitino’s first two seasons with the Cardinals. He averaged 21.0 ppg in 2001-02 and 17.9 ppg in 2002-03. He was a third-team All-American as a senior.
Ron Mercer, Kentucky: He scored 20 points in Kentucky’s national title game victory in 1996. But he was a true star in the 1996-97 campaign, Pitino’s last at the school. Mercer was the SEC Player of the Year and a consensus All-American that season. With the sophomore on the floor, Kentucky nearly retained its crown but ultimately lost to Arizona in the national championship game. Mercer scored 13 points in that matchup, his last game as a collegiate player.
Billy Donovan, Providence: Sure, he has won two national titles as head coach of the Florida Gators. But in the 1980s, “Billy the Kid” was a star for a Providence program that improved once Pitino arrived in 1985. Donovan averaged 15.1 ppg during the 1985-86 campaign. He averaged 20.6 ppg in 1986-87, the year the Friars reached the Final Four. He’s recognized as one of the greatest players in Providence history, and he’s certainly one of the best players Pitino has ever coached at this level.
Peyton Siva, Louisville: Siva represented the character of the 2013 national championship squad that won the crown in Atlanta last season. He was a gritty, quick, smart point guard who anchored Pitino’s second national championship squad a year after guiding the program to the Final Four. He also ended his career by earning back-to-back Big East tournament MVPs. And he’s the program’s all-time leader in steals.
Derek Anderson, Kentucky: He started at Ohio State but eventually transferred to Kentucky in time to help the Wildcats win a national championship in 1996. Anderson recorded 11 points, four rebounds and one assist in 16 minutes of action in Kentucky’s win over Syracuse in the national title game. His senior season was affected by a serious knee injury. But he still managed to average 17.7 ppg in 19 games that season. He was also named to the all-SEC second team.
Francisco Garcia, Louisville: The Bronx native was critical as Pitino coached Louisville to the Final Four in 2005, the program’s first trip in nearly two decades. Pitino was the first coach to claim three Final Fours with three different programs. Without Garcia, it probably wouldn’t have happened. He averaged 15.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game that season. He’s one of the most versatile players that Pitino has coached at the collegiate level.
Walter McCarty, Kentucky: He was one of Pitino’s most consistent players and probably his best singer, too. McCarty averaged 11.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game the season that Pitino secured his first national championship. He also hit 46.7 percent of his 3-pointers during the 1995-96 season. His time under Pitino also fueled his coaching endeavors. He recently joined Brad Stevens’ staff as an assistant with the Boston Celtics.