May 7, 1997
of Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton is like a 1990s Will Rogers
with a homespun phrase, but this time, Newton said, he had to read from a
prepared text. There was too much to say about Rick Pitino.
"I have a feeling of sadness that we're losing a great coach," said
Newton, "and a feeling of sadness that I am losing a friend. But I also
have a feeling of happiness, that I have an understanding of Rick's
excitement and happiness at this new challenge he's facing. If it's
possible to be happy and sad at the same time . . ."
So it was throughout the commonwealth of Kentucky yesterday afternoon.
An entire state paused to take in a televised press conference, mourned
at the words that Pitino was leaving as Kentucky basketball coach, and tried to understand why.
never felt all those other offers Rick had that he was going to leave -
until this Boston thing came up," said Newton. "Rick's a
traditionalist, and us traditionalists need to be involved in these
kinds of programs, like the Celtics."
in central Kentucky, where bluegrass, bourbon, and the thoroughbred
rank high, Kentucky basketball is king. And since Newton and Pitino
arrived, it has been the best kind of basketball, a clean program that
wins championships. Even Adolph Rupp, the Baron of the Bluegrass to whom
Pitino is now second in Kentucky lore, could not make that twin boast.
is bigger than life here," Newton jested about the huge media throng.
"But only here; it could only happen here. But you know what Rick has
done? He has got it back to where it's just a game again."
Joe B. Hall, the former Kentucky coach who had the near-impossible task
of replacing Rupp, said he was "very sad that Rick would choose this
avenue. But I can understand his decision, for the same reason that I
would never leave Kentucky, I can see why he might want to go back to
the Boston area. That's his stomping ground. My stomping ground was in
Kentucky, and I know how he feels."
"I've got to say it dawned on me a bit that Coach Pitino
is leaving for Boston, where I'm from," said Kentucky guard - and
Dorchester, Mass., resident - Wayne Turner. "I'm just so happy that he's
going to Boston, seeing that I'm from Boston. Hopefully, when I go back
home to Boston this summer and when Coach isn't that busy with the
Celtics, he can give me some workouts. Maybe I can get into a couple of
pickup games now with players on the Celtics."
On Sunday night, when Pitino
gathered his players at Memorial Coliseum and gave them the word that
he was deciding on the Celtics' job, he gave them a chance to speak back
"I told Coach Pitino
that I didn't want him to go, and that was truly coming from my heart,
that I didn't want him to leave," said Turner. "That's because I think
he's the best coach in the world. But then I said to him that it was an
opportunity for him that rarely comes around, and the job would be
great, and I told him, 'If I was in your situation, I'd probably take
the job, too.' "
Yesterday Turner talked of how much he owes to Pitino.
I came down here from Boston, I couldn't play a lick of defense," he
said, "and I never thought I had it in me to play defense until I got
here. And what I'm going to miss the most about Coach Pitino is that he really gets the most out of you. And he taught me everything."
Turner paused and added, "I'm happy for him. I'm happy to see him go on
to the next level. I truly believe he can do a lot for the Celtics. In
the next couple of years, they're going to be back in the playoffs all
the time, like when they had Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin