John Calipari believes UK “fans would be great” to Rick Pitino if he came back to ceremony honoring his accomplishments

Kentucky’s 1993 Final Four team was honored Saturday. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky continued a tradition of honoring outstanding teams this weekend when the 1992-93 Final Four team has its reunion and was recognized at halftime of Saturday’s UK-Utah game.
That’s the team that lost to Michigan and the Fab Five in New Orleans after UK senior guard Dale Brown injured his shoulder diving for a loose ball and then star Jamal Mashburn got called for fouls three, four and five in the final six minutes after the Cats had a six-point lead.
Not every player on that team came back — Tony Delk, Rodrick Rhodes and Travis Ford all had video messages played during the ceremony. Mashburn was not there and no reason was given.
Also missing was coach Rick Pitino, who remains beloved by his players despite eventually going to Louisville to coach and then encountering numerous off-court issues recently.

“Congrats 93 UK team! Proud of you guys and love the hell out of you. Thx Cal for reaching out. Much appreciated,” Pitino tweeted Saturday hours before the game.

It was a bit surprising that Kentucky coach John Calipari reached out to Pitino to invite him to attend. Calipari and Pitino were once a lot closer than they ended up after Calipari came to UK and Pitino was coaching at Louisville. But Calipari did the right thing — I think — reaching out to Pitino.

“He was with family and he had things going on. But you know, I just said, ‘Look, you need to get up here.’ They will be respectful here, and you know, what that program did to change this back.  I mean, we should recognize it,” Calipari said.

“They (fans) may be mad he went to coach at Louisville. So what? When he was here and when we needed this program on a different track, he put it, and that group — and I thanked that group last night: ‘You guys got this thing back going, you guys did.'”

Calipari said one of his “happiest” times now is to see how former UK coach Joe Hall, who won a national title in 1978, is treated by Kentucky fans now.

“He’s treated like royalty. I love it when he goes out on the court. I love to see him in practice and I love how our fans treat him.

My guess is, back in the day, they probably weren’t as friendly, okay. But now they look at it and say, you know what, who would have followed Adolph Rupp? Who is stupid enough to do that? He was,” Calipari said.

“He went to Final Fours, won national titles. Think about it.

”

Pitino came to try and clean up the mess created by coach Eddie Sutton that landed UK on probation for two years. Kentucky lost to Duke in the historic 1992 Elite Eight. It lost in the 1993 Final Four. The Cats lost to North Carolina in the Elite Eight in 1995 and then won the title in 1996. The next year UK lost in the national title game.

“He deserves to be able to get the respect from what he did here, and I think our fans would be great. You know, he may not think that, but I’m convinced that if he came back, that the fans would be great to him,” Calipari said after Saturday’s win over Utah.

Would the fans be great? Remember, Pitino did flip off UK fans the last time he left the Rupp Arena court when UK beat his Cards. Many fans would be gracious. Would they all? I kind of doubt it.

But like him or not, there’s no questioning his legacy and it seems like Calipari reaching out the way he did — even if there probably is no chance Pitino would ever accept the invitation — was the right thing to do.

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