October 16, 1997
Rupp Welcomes Back Kentucky Alum
He was the lead story in the local news. And the stories never stopped coming. The ABC affiliate devoted the first four segments of its 5 p.m. newscast to the Return of Rick Pitino. There were three Pitino-related stories in the local paper. And while Rupp Arena did not sell out, thousands of people among the 15,010 on hand said the only reason they left the house on a Wednesday night was to see the revered former University of Kentucky coach.
That was obvious as Pitino walked onto the court and received a standing ovation. There was considerable applause for former Wildcats Antoine Walker and Ron Mercer, but this clearly was a Pitino gang.
The coach kept this all in perspective. During a fourth-quarter sequence, he went to the end of the Celtics' bench and chatted with a youth visiting the sideline area. After the game, a 123-115 exhibition loss to the Nets, the Celtics locker room was filled with Kentuky supporters, ex-players, and fans seeking autographs.
"It's definitely good to see everybody," Pitino said to a row of statewide camera crews. "We wish we could have won, but it was great seeing old friends."
As for the game, the Celtics actually played a style of basketball Pitino made famous during his years here. It was easily the best of their three exhibitions. "I was happy with a lot of things we did," Pitino said. "We looked better; we're making progress."
Mercer set the tone by making each of his six shots in the first quarter. Walker finished the game with 29 points and five rebounds, but he had a rough floor game with seven turnovers against three assists. Travis Knight had 19 points and displayed the jumper that has Pitino calling him "one of the best 7-foot shooters around." One Celtics problem was that they couldn't stop Sam Cassell (32 points, 15 assists). Although their shooting was better (53 percent), the Nets hit 54 percent.