FIU men’s basketball begins the season with a head coach carrying a name that’s better known than the program or, perhaps, even the school itself. Nothing new there.
What’s new is that FIU is the first opportunity for that coach with the famous name to make a name for himself. Well, that’s new as well as a good chunk of FIU’s roster.
Richard Pitino Jr. knows his name, looks and profession prompt questions and conversation about his father, one of the most successful and well-known basketball coaches of the past 25 years. And he says that he and Louisville’s head coach now talk or text as much as ever.
Yet, one of the most valuable moves his father made was kicking him out of the nest. University of Florida coach Billy Donovan, the star of Pitino the father’s 1987 Final Four team at Providence, called Louisville coach Rick Pitino asking if he had any young recruiters who might want to be an assistant to Donovan. Pitino Sr. suggested Pitino Jr.
“That was the greatest thing I could’ve done. Going down there for two years, learning under somebody else, prepared me to be where I am today,” Pitino said.
Also, it got Pitino familiar with his current home state of recruiting. He likes the talent pool in Florida and figures, if nothing else, just the concept of college in Miami intrigues many a kid in, say, New York.
Pitino said he thinks Malik Smith, 1 6-2 junior college transfer guard, can be one of the best three-point shooters in the Sun Belt Conference, if not the nation. Smith and 6-5 forward Tymell Murphy, who also will probably start, are two of the four junior college transfers coming to FIU this season.
Pitino managed to keep six players from a roster that liked Isiah Thomas so much, they sent a letter to FIU President Mark Rosenberg criticizing all aspects of the firing and walked out of the athletic department’s awards dinner in protest. As of now, one of those six, 5-9 sophomore Deric Hill, will start at point guard.
Sophomore center Joey De La Rosa wanted to stay after considering leaving. Pitino told the 6-11 De La Rosa that he was fine with that, as long as De La Rosa lost 30 pounds and 11 percent body fat from his 270 pounds and 18 percent measurements.
De La Rosa did it the old fashioned way — cutting the Whoppers and Big Macs and exercising more — but the Panthers won’t begin the season with De La Rosa at center. Expect a small, fast, high-pressure FIU team with 6-6 freshman Jerome Frink playing center.
“It’s going to be running, trapping, pressing,” Pitino said. “I rarely want to slow it up and call a play. ... It’s going to be a fun style.”
Sounds like a Pitino team. Richard Pitino says he’d like to coach a team that plays a similar style, although comparisons probably should end there.
“People ask me how am I similar to my Dad,” Pitino said. “I think that’s the silliest question in the world. The guy’s won over 600 games, won a national title and been to six Final Fours. I haven’t won a game yet.”