May 11, 1997
indefatigable coach of the 1996 national champion Kentucky Wildcats,
made headlines again when he accepted an unprecedented 10-year, $ 70
million offer to coach the Celtics Thursday. In this excerpt from his
new nationwide best-seller, "Success is a Choice: Ten Steps to
Overachieving in Business and Life" (Broadway Books), Pitino
uses colorful, inspiring anecdotes from his stints as coach of the
Wildcats and the New York Knicks to illustrate his secrets for building
self-esteem, being prepared, communicating successfully, making pressure
work for you and more.)
you're underachieving it's easy to think everyone else has the secret
except you. The reality is, though, we all have frustrations and
failures. Even the people who, on the surface, appear as if they don't.
the summer of 1987 I became the coach of the New York Knicks. I was 34
years old, and because I'd been born in New York City and had always
been a great Knicks fan, becoming their coach was a dream come true.
But I quickly found out that it was all more complicated than that.
I wanted to bring to the Knicks the same full-court trapping pressing
style of play I had used in college, the media quickly jumped all over
me. They said it would never work in the NBA, that the season was too
long, there were too many games and the players simply would not exert
the kind of energy on a nightly basis that was essential if the style
were to be successful.
It seemed to me as if almost every day the New York papers said that our style of play would never work.
Al Bianchi, the Knicks' general manager and my boss, had his doubts,
which certainly didn't make me feel very comfortable or secure in my
Eventually, it started bothering me.
Not that I ever thought they were right. But what if they were half-right? What if 50 percent of what they said came true?
the first time I started to question myself. I've always been a very
confident person, but all the daily sniping and questioning was taking
This went on throughout much of
the season. Even when we started winning there were still doubters who
said our style would eventually burn the players out. In fact, it wasn't
until the last game of the regular season that I began to feel better.
That was the night we qualified for the playoffs, the first time in years the Knicks had made it that far.
The next day New York Newsday ran a headline that said "Vindicated."
I learned a valuable lesson. I learned that you can't doubt yourself,
that you have to maintain confidence that you are fulfilling the role
you've staked out for yourself.
UNDERSTAND THAT HARD WORK ISN'T FUN
a coach I'm always trying to explain to my players that all the pain
they're going through is worth it, that there's a great reward for them
if they keep at it.
Consider the case of Richie Farmer.
played for me at Kentucky, graduating in 1992, but he already was a
legend in the state by the time he arrived in Lexington as a freshman.
grew up in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, and was Most Valuable
Player of the state high school tournament two years in a row. Richie
was a folk hero in the state, so when my wife, Joanne, called me one day
to say that Richie and his father were sitting in my downstairs room
and that Richie wanted to quit, I came home in a hurry.
Richie had had a run-in with our strength coach in the preseason
workouts, and he wanted to quit. He also was trying to come to grips
with the realization he was not going to be the kind of superstar in
college that he had been in high school.
"It's no longer fun," he said.
see," I said to him, "You're 15 pounds overweight, you're in terrible
shape, and now you're being asked to lift weights and push your body,
and you're telling me it's not fun.
"Of course it's not fun. How could it be fun? It's not supposed to be fun.
fact, I just came off the road from recruiting. Eighteen days of
airplanes and hotel rooms and rental cars and being away from my family.
It's the part of the job I don't like. It's the price I have to pay for
putting a great team out on the floor in (Lexington's) Rupp Arena.
you know what, Richie? Let's quit together. We'll have a joint press
conference, and we'll both announce we're quitting. The Italian coach
from New York and the Kentucky kid from the mountains. Both of us
together. It will be an amazing press conference."
At which point Richie started to laugh.
"Coach, you can't quit," he said.
"I know," I said. "And neither can you."
Working hard is not always fun. That's why it's called "work."
work enabled Richie Farmer to see his career end with his number being
raised to the top of Rupp Arena for his contribution to his team's
turnaround, the assurance that he forever will be a part of the
University of Kentucky basketball history.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
It's an old saying, but it's as true as ever: You can't be too prepared.
a young basketball player named Jamal Mashburn was in high school in
New York City, he had the reputation of being a lazy, overweight young
man who didn't play hard. I had people telling me we shouldn't recruit
The first thing I did was do a little
research, wanting to find out as much as I could about Jamal before we
actually met. I discovered that he was only 16 - no wonder everyone kept
saying he was immature.
I also learned he
had never trained extensively. His body was soft and underdeveloped, and
he wasn't in great shape, which no doubt contributed to his inability
to play hard.
When I first met him, I said:
"Jamal, I have a reputation for overworking my players and you have a
reputation for being lazy and not wanting to work hard. Why would you
possibly want to play for me?"
"I want to
be a professional ballplayer," he answered, "and I know that in order to
get there I'm going to have to work hard. You'll make me do that."
Jamal succeeded - and so did I. Without a little homework, I'm sure the outcome would have been very different.
Do your homework. Your competitor is doing his.