<
>

Rick Pitino hands Puerto Rico national team to his assistants

Rick Pitino has stepped down as coach of Puerto Rico's national team after guiding them to a fifth-place finish in the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament.

Although the team failed to gain one of the tournament's two automatic berths into the 2016 Rio Games, Puerto Rico still has a chance to advance via an Olympic qualifying tournament in 2016.

Pitino, however, said Wednesday that he's ready to hand over the national team to his assistant coaches as he returns to the United States to coach the Louisville Cardinals.

"When I came here I wanted three things," said Pitino, who has coached the team since June. "To help Puerto Rico get to the Olympics, to teach them a new culture of defensive basketball and to develop my three assistants and Puerto Rican brothers -- Nelson [Colon], Allans [Colon] and Richie [Dalmau].

"They are ready to take charge of this."

Puerto Rico closed the FIBA Americas with an 80-69 victory over Uruguay.

"I am proud of this team," Pitino said. "This is the best defense I have seen in the first half in a long time. We have been trying to reach three goals with these players for the past 100 days. We have tried to get them to play together like a closed fist, to play for Puerto Rico with a passion they have never had before and to play defense as though the game was on the line at each possession.

"We were playing for the Olympic berth, but we finished well and with another chance next summer to finish what we didn't get this time around. We literally got here limping and we can go home proud over a job well done, hoping that next year everyone is healthy and can compete at an even higher level."

Puerto Rico last qualified for the Olympics in 2004, when they beat the United States in the first round.

Guard J.J. Barea already has stumped for Nelson Colon to succeed Pitino as the national team's coach.

"We are going to keep working and we are grateful to Pitino for what he has done," Barea said. "We are going to prepare for the qualifier. I think Nelson Colon has done a good job. He has won the past two championships and he was here with us to gain experience, so I think he should coach the national team."