By LARRY VAUGHT
“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.