The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

April 3, 2013

Minnesota hires FIU’s Richard Pitino as basketball coach

(Continued)

MINNEAPOLIS —

In addition to working with his father at Louisville, Richard Pitino served briefly on Donovan’s staff with the Gators.

“The great thing about Billy and my dad, they’re always willing to give me advice,” Pitino told The Associated Press in February. “They understand where I’m at. I call Billy every single day, almost like I call my dad, and I’m so appreciative that they give the time to try to teach me. It’s so exciting. For me, I can’t try to be Billy Donovan, I can’t try to be Rick Pitino. I’ve got to be my own man and play my own style, and it’s been fun trying to figure it out.”

He also knows a little something about replacing a big-name coach.

Pitino was hired last year to take over the Panthers, who never got going under NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. He inherited a program that was short on talent and long on academic problems, but was credited with helping instill a renewed focus to performance in the classroom during his short run with the Panthers. They went 11-9 in the Sun Belt Conference, the most wins since joining the league in 1998-99.

Smith is greatly respected for his work at Tulsa, Georgia and, most notably, Kentucky, where he won a national championship in 1998, his first season after replacing Rick Pitino. He restored Minnesota to respectability, but was fired having never finished with a winning record in the Big Ten.

Just like he did at Florida International, Pitino will have plenty of work to do at Minnesota. The Gophers are losing seniors Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams from an already thin frontcourt and the length of the search has already resulted in one of the top recruits from next year’s class pulling out of his commitment. Alvin Ellis, a guard from Chicago, asked for a release from his letter of intent Wednesday morning. He could still sign with Minnesota.

The bigger priority will be playing catch-up with three of highly sought after high school juniors who all play in Minnesota. Apple Valley point guard Tyus Jones is considered one of the top five players in his class and has drawn interest from Michigan State, Duke and Kentucky. DeLaSalle’s Reid Travis and Robbinsdale Cooper’s Rashad Vaughn also are drawing interest.

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