Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NIT Final Pits Former Knicks Coach (Brown) Against Son of Former Knicks Coach (Pitino)
NEW YORK — Thursday’s NIT championship game will pit one former Knicks coach against the son of another former Knicks coach.
Larry Brown vs. Richard Pitino on the Madison Square Garden floor.
And Rick Pitino will be sitting behind his son’s bench when Minnesota (24-13) faces SMU (27-9) at 7 p.m. Thursday on ESPN.
“I know they got the Knick dressing room, so what does that tell you?” Brown joked Wednesday on a conference call.
Brown coached the Knicks for one ill-fated season in 2005-6, while the elder Pitino led the Knicks from 1987-89.
“When you coach at the Garden you have an appreciation for the fact that [Rick] was the New York Knick coach at such an early age so it just shows you the unbelievable career that he’s had,” Richard said of his father. “And then to have him there right behind the bench it’s kind of surreal for me because growing up my whole life it’s always been the other way around. I’ve always been the fan, he’s always been the coach.
“Now he considers New York home, my mom considers New York home. To have them there last night and be a part of it is really something special and it’s really come full circle with everybody.”
The elder Pitino — whose Louisville team lost to arch-rival Kentucky in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament– was behind the bench for Minnesota’s 67-64 OT semifinal win over Florida State and is expected to be there for the championship game, too.
“Every time I see Rick sitting in the stands watching his son coach, I can’t imagine anything better than that,” Brown said.
Rick Pitino and Louisville beat Brown and SMU twice this season during American Athletic Conference play, and Rick discussed strategy with his son over a hamburger following Minnesota’s win.
“We just talked strategy and what he liked about our team, what he doesn’t like about what we do and certainly he’s played SMU this season so he had a couple of things to talk about with them,” Richard Pitino said.
The younger Pitino, 31, said he didn’t know Brown that well when he was a kid, but has always respected the now-73-year-old Hall of Famer.
“I’ve always been such a huge fan of coach Brown,” Pitino said. “He’s the only coach who’s won a college and pro title. He’s won everywhere, really. I know he had a tough situation with the Knicks but he’s really won everywhere. That’s just a testament to him as a Hall of Fame coach.”
Pitino said Brown “doesn’t look” 73 and he “coaches as if he’s in his 30s.”
“He’s done an unbelievable job with this SMU team,” he added. “Their attention to detail is phenomenal. They’re a great defensive team, they’re a great offensive team and I think it’s great for any coach in the game to see a guy who just loves the game. And he’s building a great program. He’s recruiting great, the fan interest has gotten better and that’s just awesome to see and that’s why he’s one of the true legends in this game.”
Some teams have letdowns when they miss out on the NCAA and get sent to the NIT.
Witness St. John’s first-round NIT flameout against Robert Morris.
But both of these teams shook off their NCAA disappointments and are now within one game of a championship in April.
“Really the only tough game honestly was the first game,” Pitino said. “That’s where I think everyone was kind of let down a little bit but I think after we got into that second game and moving forward we were really excited about the opportunity to keep playing.”
Pitino said SMU and Minnesota “really had the best argument to get into the NCAA Tournament.”
Said Brown, whose team was the last one out of the Big Dance: “Right now we’re one of six teams still playing and what a great opportunity it is for us.”
Now, both programs are hoping to carry the momentum from this NIT run into next year, when they will be adding recruits and hoping to move up in their respective conferences.
Minnesota adds guards Nate Mason and Carlos Morris and power forward Josh Martin, while SMU adds McDonald’s All-American guard Emmanuel Mudiay to a group that already includes Nic Moore and Keith Frazier and big man Markus Kennedy, who went for 21 points and 8 rebounds in the semifinal win over Clemson.
“I think we have the best player in the country coming next year,” Brown said of Mudiay.”He gives us a chance to be great.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.