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10.03.2008

Pitino Visits Antoine

11/9/96

Antoine Walker's Rookie Campaign

He wasn't here for a job interview. And he isn't planning to return to the NBA as a head coach anytime soon.

Rick Pitino was merely in town last night to bring his two sons to the Celtics game at the FleetCenter. The Kentucky coach had a rooting interest in the Celtics, who lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, 115-105.

It was Pitino's first opportunity to see former Kentucky Wildcats star and Celtics first-round draft pick Antoine Walker play as a pro. He also coached new Celtic Marty Conlon at Providence. But Pitino, ever the basketball coach, couldn't help but break down the Celtics' future from his bird's-eye view in Section 13.

"I think with Dallas' (first-round) pick and with their own pick (next year), it's going to happen here, but it's going to take time," he said. "It's unfortunate, but when they had (former coach) Chris Ford for all those years, they were hurt and banged up, but they kept on winning their 48 games and their 50 games.

"As a result, they never really could rebuild, so they just maintained. In the NBA now, before you can think about going to the top again, you almost have to hit rock bottom."

The Celtics might have hit rock bottom during Pitino's brief visit. They allowed the Sixers to leave town with their first victory of the season. Walker had 17 points and seven rebounds.

"I think Antoine is a future NBA All-Star," said Pitino, who coached Walker for two years at Kentucky. "He's a legitimate 6-9, 6-9 1/2 with guard skills. He rebounds well, he has a long wingspan and he has a great, great flair for the game.

"He does so many different things well and he's going to get so much stronger and better. I know I'm a little biased, but I thought that was one of the best picks in the draft."

Walker, who helped Pitino win his first national title last season, gave up his final two years of eligibility to enter the NBA draft. He left a winning situation in Lexington, Ky., for a rebuilding one in Boston.

"I'm where I want to be," said Walker, who spoke with his former coach before the game. "It was nice to see him again and talk about things, but I have no regrets about leaving school early. My focus now is helping this team win games and turn things around."

Pitino believes that will happen - but not overnight.

"I think down the road they're going to be very good, but you've got Philly, Washington, Miami and New York. There's a lot of talent in that division alone. Give the Celtics another couple of years with a few more good draft picks and they'll be an excellent ballclub again."

And what of Pitino's plans?

"It's not that I wouldn't want to come back to the NBA, but I have the greatest job, I think, in all of basketball," he said. "It would be very difficult for me to leave a position that every year, if you do your job recruiting, you're going to have a great shot at a Final Four and a great season. I'm very happy where I am."

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