UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- While Rick Pitino shows no signs of slowing down, former UNLV Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian just hopes to "make a good showing" during this weekend's induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Tark is 83 and battling health problems. His speech is slow, deliberate and at times labored. But he was still able to muster a few words Friday after he arrived in New England with his family.
The plan is for Tark to stand and give a few words Sunday afternoon. He will make his way to the stage with a walker as he's being presented by Hall of Famers Bill Walton and Pete Carril. But Tarkanian will also tape a speech just in case he's not able to do it live Sunday.
Tark, who won a $2.5 million settlement with the NCAA, has long fought to be recognized. He won. He said he had been counting on this and was hopeful it would occur. His family worked tirelessly for him the past few years to get him his due.
Yet Tark didn't say this is about him. He coached the Spurs for a few games and spent time at his alma mater at Fresno State, but he will always be linked to UNLV where he essentially helped create the university it is today with his national basketball program.
"It's going to be a very important night for our university, not nearly as important [for me]," Tarkanian said. "This is really big for our university. We're going to have a big following."
The familiar Runnin' Rebel faces from the teams in the early '90s are expected to attend as well as those from his earlier time in Las Vegas like current Cal State Northridge coach Reggie Theus.
When asked whom Tark wants to thank the most, he said, "I'll thank a lot of people that followed us."
The Runnin' Rebels had a national following. Seeing Tark into the Hall of Fame validates somewhat everything he strived to do during his tenure, despite the constant investigations from the NCAA. His peers were never out to get him.
Pitino couldn't be more proud to join him on the dais at the Hall of Fame. He spoke glowingly Friday at the Mohegan Sun Casino about being with Tarkanian in this class.
Like Tark, Pitino will have quite a following in attendance, from a slew of stops in his career: Syracuse to Boston University to Providence to the Knicks to Kentucky to the Celtics to Louisville. He said he expects his whole Providence team to show. He will be presented by Hall of Fame contributor Dick Vitale of ESPN and ESPN NBA analyst, mentor and former NBA coach Hubie Brown.
Pitino reiterated Friday that Brown taught him how to coach in the NBA and that Jim Boeheim did so in college, giving him a chance as an assistant coach in the 1970s. He said he will point out during his five-minute speech how a player helped turn around a program and helped his career by choosing Kentucky despite the program being on probation. That player, Pitino said, was Jamal Mashburn.
Pitino's year has been magical, with the Cardinals winning the national title, his son Richard getting a big-time gig as head coach at Minnesota and being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"I never paid attention to this moment," said Pitino. "We all want to be Peter Pan and stay young. But I never thought about this honor. But it happened at such a unique moment. It has been amazing year, one that I will never forget. Sunday should be a moment I'll never forget."
Throughout the week, players and managers alike who played for Tark, Pitino and Lewis have discussed the loyalty the coaches showed them. Pitino returned the favor and said Friday that former Providence player and current Florida coach Billy Donovan, whom Pitino said will be in the Hall of Fame one day and should have the court at the Gators' O'Connell Center named after him, as well as last season's Louisville team leader in senior Peyton Siva were the "two most incredible players I've ever coached."
"I can find character flaws in everybody and a lot in myself," said Pitino, "but I couldn't find a character flaw in [Siva and Donovan]."
Tark had a style, the way he coached and the way his team demanded excellence, that carried him through his career. He demanded hard work, and the players obliged, showing him loyalty regardless of how hard he worked them.
Pitino's pressing style was born out of a way to play that he coveted at UMass as a player but his coach wasn't convinced would work with the personnel.
"When I became a coach, I said I want to get back to how I wanted to play as a player," said Pitino.
He likened it to hockey with all the backchecking and pursuing. The personnel wasn't always a fit, especially in the probation years at Kentucky, but he got his players to buy in and excel, much like he did at every spot.
Pitino is having a grand time as a coach and is showing no signs of wanting to retire, two weeks before he turns 61 on Sept. 18.
"Coaches are bridge builders, and the great ones are not based on records but on how crowded their bridges are," said Pitino. "You want one filled with your coaches who are your best friends and full of players who are crossing the bridge toward more prosperity. The more crowded the bridge, the better coach you are. All of the coaches on the sidelines and the players you coach have each other's back. My bridge is very crowded now, and I'm very, very proud of that."