Rick Pitino's Panathinaikos squad saw its improbable bid to reach the EuroLeague Final Four cut a series short by Real Madrid in the quarterfinals of Europe's premier club competition Tuesday.
A game that Panathinaikos needed to stay alive in the series got away from it after defending champion Madrid hit a late 3-pointer to spoil any chances of the Greek club making a comeback and avoiding a three-game sweep in the best-of-five series. Pitino said he was disappointed to not make the Final Four, but said that what the team had achieved at the tournament was a "big treat."
Panathinaikos had to overachieve simply to make the playoffs. It pulled off a minor miracle by winning seven of its last eight games in the EuroLeague's 30-game, home-and-away regular season to earn its place among the eight playoff teams.
"I loved coaching here," Pitino told reporters after Panathinaikos' 78-74 loss. "I love the people. Guys in the team are great to work with. We got a tremendous owner that's very passionate. A great GM in Manos [Papadopoulos]. I love everything about Panathinaikos."
Former NBA player Rudy Fernandez was the leading scorer for Real Madrid with 17 points. His team is defending the EuroLeague title it won last May after Dallas Mavericks rookie star Luka Doncic won EuroLeague MVP and Final Four MVP honors on the way to the crown last year.
Nick Calathes, the Florida Gators product and former Memphis Grizzlies point guard, led the way for Panathinaikos with 17 points and seven assists.
Hired in December by the Athens club, Pitino took over a team that featured several players with NBA or NCAA ties. Panathinaikos' roster also includes Keith Langford, Deshaun Thomas, James Gist and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the older brother of Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Pitino's contract extends only to the end of the season, and in Europe coaches are far more expendable than they are in the United States. Larry Brown was unceremoniously dumped after six months with Auxilium Torino on Dec. 27.
"I'd like to win a championship," Pitino said, as quoted by eurohoops.net. "Final Four has never been enough for me; I'd like to win a championship. I don't know if it's going to be here."
Pitino said he hasn't spoken to anybody from the Panathinaikos front office directly about his future, but said he might be open to returning to the team under the right situation.
"If I do come back, and it is a big 'if,' I will do anything possible to get the players to not only go to the Final Four but to win a championship," Pitino said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report