DES MOINES, Iowa -- Richard Pitino cracked open a bit on the connection he and his father, Rick Pitino, have felt in the Gophers men’s basketball team’s playing, and then beating, Louisville 86-76 in an NCAA tournament first-round game Thursday, March 21.
After defusing repeated questions about the connection to the school that fired his dad less than two years ago, Richard shed more insight into that awkward dynamic in an interview with ESPN on Friday morning. He was asked about speaking to his dad after Minnesota’s win at Wells Fargo Arena.
“He was pretty excited,” Richard said. “I’m not going to lie. He was probably a little bit emotional out there in Milan.”
Rick was fired by Louisville for links to a federal bribery scheme and responded with a lawsuit of about $40 million against the school’s athletic association. Rick then took a coaching job Greek club Panathinaikos in December, and the club played in Athens on Thursday, meaning Rick couldn’t come to Iowa to watch his son, with another game in Italy on Friday.
“He still has paid a price,” Richard continued. “He’s been out of the game that he loves. He’s one of the greatest coaches to ever coach this game. He’s coaching in Greece right now because he loves it so much. So if it brought a little smile to him, then I guess we achieved our objective a little bit. I’m happy for him because he needs more days like that where he can be happy and feel fulfilled like he did.”
With the run-up to his second NCAA tournament appearance in seven seasons of coaching behind him, Pitino was more forthcoming after the win and night’s sleep.
“If it puts a smile on his face — without going into everything that happened at Louisville over last couple of years and pointing fingers about whose fault it is and who should have known or whatever,” Pitino said.
In Friday’s news conference, Richard said he didn’t commemorate his first NCAA tournament win in a special way.
“I went to dinner with my wife and my brother,” he said. “No, other than that, just move on. It’s a great win. … But in this tournament, it’s like anything else, I told our team you got to the tournament which is a goal. Are you just happy to be here or would you like to make some noise?”
The 10th-seeded Gophers were scheduled to played No. 2 Michigan State Saturday, with a spot in the Sweet Sixteen on the line.