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Pitino Left Kentucky for… Tim Duncan? Actually I Guess That’s Fair.


“I’ll give you all three for Tim Duncan.  And $3,000.  I’ve got that lying around right now.”

Depending on your perspective, this is either going to be salt in a wound, or an interesting little exercise in the hypothetical.  Hopefully, you’re in the latter camp; if not, well I’m not sure I can help you.  But Adam Zagoria posted some musings last night (or, actually, very early this morning), asking: “What if Ricky Three Stacks Never Left?”  He didn’t use the name “Three Stacks, but c’mon, how hilarious would that be?  Apart from probably missing out on that whole Karen Sypher thing, there are a lot of ways that Pitino could have been better off staying in Lexington.  Then again, there were also plenty of good reasons to leave.  About seventy million of them, actually.

But Zagoria, and site-favorite Jay Bilas (who seems to be everywhere right now), agree on one thing: if he’d never left, Pitino would be up to his ears in championships.

Not only would Pitino have significantly more wins had he stayed at Kentucky, he might have as much hardware as Coach K or Adolph Rupp, who own four apiece and trail only John Wooden’s 10.

“If he had stayed at Kentucky, he’d have four national championships by now, I really believe that,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas told

“That program that he built went to three straight championship games and was an overtime period away from a three-peat [96-98]. If he had stayed there, the idea that that program wouldn’t have sustained excellence over time when he’s done that at Louisville, that doesn’t wash. He’s an extraordinary coach as a tactician, as a recruiter, as a motivator, as an in-game coach.”

Obviously he has the one, and it’s only fair to give him the second, since everyone claims that Tubby won with his players anyway.  But do you really believe he would have four championships?  He’s gotten Louisville to multiple Final Fours, and that was starting from scratch.  What if he’d been able to keep his momentum from the near-threepeat?  As it is, Pitino’s left wondering, and regretting, the same thing.

“I think I do regret leaving Kentucky because I took over a team with 15 wins banking everything on the Tim Duncan lottery, and once we didn’t get Tim Duncan I realized that leaving Kentucky was not a good move.”

Without Tim Duncan, Pitino wasn’t able to get that NBA title he so coveted, and eventually made his way back to the Commonwealth.  The rest is all-too familiar to us.

It’s strange to consider that we were “spurned” as part of the Tim Duncan sweepstakes, but that’s the business of basketball.  With Cal here now, we don’t feel the pressure to worry about coaches, and it’s more fun to speculate one the what-ifs of the Pitino situation.  Like a lot of break-ups, this is one that maybe, over time, was better for both parties.  Pitino got a little taste of humble pie, and Kentucky fans stopped taking elite coaches for granted.  Thanks, Billy Clyde.

So while it’s fun to speculate on what could have been, it’s even more fun to look at what is: Pitino’s doing well at Louisville, and Cal is right in between National Championship runs.

I think things worked out in the end.

Article written by Corey Nichols

57 Comments for Pitino Left Kentucky for… Tim Duncan? Actually I Guess That’s Fair.

  1. 1st
    9:01 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    suckers i am first

  2. Calcium of Ware
    9:05 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Ah. I was hoping for first. However, I lost a bet on what you were going to write about today. I was thinking for sure it was going to be “Would Britney Griner survive in the NBA?” Which would be consistent with your trend of writing articles that have such clear answers that they are comical. Instead, you choose to write about something that has been covered, covered, and covered some more. Again, you ensure that Louisville has a place on this site, and for that I ridicule you.

  3. When did C-A-T-S become a speed cheer?
    9:06 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Probably good media filler, but doubtful at best. He would have never won in 1998 and he continues to prove he’s not a big time recruiter. Just like he did at Kentucky. 6 topflight players in 8 years at UK? He used to get players to play the way he wants them to. He openly admitted losing interest a few years ago. Good media, though.

  4. Mattd
    9:07 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    I would rather have had Pitino this whole time than be where we are now simply because I think we’d have more chips. 11 is better than 8. That said I’m happy we bounced back with cal.

  5. bilbo
    9:08 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    if he stayed….we would have at least 2 more titles would have been great but that’s a what if….nothing but love for Rick brought us back from the dead…

  6. Bling Bling
    9:10 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Ego and $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ > Tim Duncan

  7. When did C-A-T-S become a speed cheer?
    9:15 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    If he was going to win that many we would have never lost in 1995 (basically the 1996 team with Rodrick Rhodes instead of Ron Mercer). After that he should have two the at Louisville. Not seeing any of that happening. Giving him a little too much credit.

  8. Ry
    9:16 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    The good part about Pitino going to Louisville… Even if they win it this year they had to take a UK coach to do it lol Thanks Rick… How about Richard going to Minnesota? Interesting jump

  9. serdi
    9:16 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Bilias is correct. In fact P might have more than 4.

  10. mike
    9:17 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Only in Kentucky would someone find it “strange” that a basketball coach born and raised in the northeast would leave Kentucky to coach the Boston Celtics for 70 million dollars.

  11. Louisville Page?
    9:20 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Are we done complimenting our archrival’s coach??

    If any UK fan is hoping they win it all, they’re soft.

  12. blackhawk509
    9:21 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    When did this site get hi-jacked by tard props…we all know how google works…take this crap down.

  13. Hard UK Fan
    9:26 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    I hope UofL wins it all

  14. RUPPS_rhetoric
    9:27 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    “Obviously he has the one, and it’s only fair to give him the second, since everyone claims that Tubby won with his players anyway.” WRONG! That prick doesn’t get credit for that title. I’m so sick and tired of that line. 98’s best player was who? Padgett, Shephard, Heshimu? I get that he recruited that team, but that team wasn’t near the talent level of the previous two teams. Matt, Drew, Tyler and I could have coached the 96 team to a Championship. I’m not saying the 98 team was a bunch of chumps; they had some really good players on that team, and TON of chemistry. Tubby gets all the credit in world for molding that chemistry and making that run. I’m sorry, but I give Rick ZERO credit for the 98 title, and I think THAT’S “only fair…”

  15. Rockfield, KY
    9:30 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    My sister said she hopes UL wins it all this year. I then had to make the tough choice of calling child protective services and having my neice and nephew removed from her custody, because she has clearly lost her mind and is unfit.

  16. LouisvilleUKFan
    9:30 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    C’mon yall, we were devastated when he left for a reason. He is a straight baller coach, and I think 4 ‘ships is on the low side of what he would have if he had stayed at UK. As stated above, you have 96 and basically 98. Do you really think with the profile of the team at that time that he would not have continued to recruit at the highest level and would not have won 2 championships in the next 15 YEARS? The dude is obviously a HOF coach and we should be happy he ever coached at UK. I love Cal and he is the right coach for UK right now in the era we are currently in. But there is no denying that Pitino is likely one of the 5 most effective college coaches ever, even if it isn’t reflected in number of championships or wins (bc of the NBA and early years rebuilding UL). The 96-98 years showed what he could do, and even Cal with 20+ NBA players in 4 years hasn’t been able to touch that level of dominance.

  17. When did C-A-T-S become a speed cheer?
    9:31 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    14 you are exactly right. Been saying since UK won that game. Rick finally admitted it a few years back, too.

  18. Syrin
    9:31 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    This from the news of the incredibly obvious category. San Antonio had like a 1 in 60 chance of getting the first pick of the draft, if not lower. It was pretty evident that Pitino was banking on coaching a Celtics team anchored by Duncan.

  19. BNClay
    9:32 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    On another note KSR please give some love to Terrence Jones, he had his best game as a pro last night.

    29mins, 14 points, 12 rebounds(8 offensive), 6-11 shooting, Rockets W @ Kings 112-102.

  20. Little Ricky's Big Ego
    9:33 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Pitino was a Larry Brown wannabe gun for hire coach. He could have had something like a Coach K thing going, but it wasn’t enough. After getting his payday in Boston and failing miserably, Little Ricky saw his mistake and tried to revive Loserville and relive the glory days- again an ego thing. BTW, on Sat., GO SHOCKERS!!!

  21. blackhawk509
    9:33 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Not much on NBA facts but…wasn’t three stacks the last coach where mutiny was led by his own former college players.

  22. Beatle Bum
    9:36 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    If only we could have seen what he had planned for Ryan Hogan and the rest of that incredible class that Tubby ruined. Rick was pulling in the top talent when he left UK, crushing Dean and K for the McDees! He was on a roll …

  23. Big Blue
    9:38 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    If I had bought Apple stock back then and just held on to it…..

  24. BPM
    9:39 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Don’t get me wrong, Pitino is one of the best coaches in the game – but the only time he actually won a championship he had 8 NBA players on his roster. Of course, that will probably change this year but the people that act like he is so superior to Cal are kidding themselves.

  25. tom
    9:39 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    11. I have been a Kentucky fan for 45 years. I appreciate what Rick Pitino did for UK and if the Cats can not claim the national title, I am hoping Pitino and Louisville do.

  26. go cats
    9:42 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Who cares? We have Cal and the Monstars are coming next year. Im so sick of pro Pitino/Lousyville Kentucky fans. Its a rivalry. Pick a side and stick with it or don’t pick a side at all.

  27. When did C-A-T-S become a speed cheer?
    9:45 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    22…name these players then. He got 6 top rated players in 8 years. Hardly any indication he was and would have gotten a bunch more.

  28. asdf
    9:46 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Pitino was the best coach in the country until he lost his fire. How, he’s a very good one, but not driven to excellence, other than the occasional good year, like this one.

  29. Daryl Dixon
    9:48 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Something I realized a few days ago. I hate u of lol more than anyone. I actively troll the crap out of them. However, I found myself not necessarily rooting against the team. I root against their fans. If it wasn’t for their fans, I could root for them. Like UNC could root for NC St in the same position if it wasn’t for St’s fans. It’s the whole “johnny come lately” “little brother” attitude.

  30. Tom Blevins
    9:49 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Pitino would’t stop flirting with the NBA and that was hurting his recruiting at the end of his run at Kentucky. If he had corrected that, he could have got better recruits and kept Kentucky at the top. I don’t think he would have corrected it, because I don’t think he wanted to. It fed his big ego. This haasn’t been a problem at Louisville, because after Boston, no NBA team wants him.

  31. BBN
    9:50 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    A side note but, how is Richard Pitino qualified to coach Minnesota with his 1 year of head coaching experience? It is Minnesota and all but…I call BS on that hire.

  32. Beatle Bum
    9:51 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Michael Bradley, Ryan Hogan and Myron Anthony. Rick was sliding, losing recruiting battles for the players he coveted. He was struggling with recruiting. Anyone who was watching could see it.

  33. Psychologist
    9:52 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Like a lot of break-ups, this is one that MAYBE, over time, was better for both parties. When one party says MAYBE, that means you’re still not over it.

    The neighbor has your hot trophy wife and is driving her to the big dance, must hurt.

  34. The J Man
    9:53 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    A+ blog, Corey. I read Deadspin a month ago too!

  35. GO CATS
    9:53 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Bottom line is UK was brought back from the dead by none other than Rick Pitino. He resurrected this program. For that I am truly thankful and as hard as it is to see him at UL he still has my utmost respect!!! Now with that being said, I’m even more thankful that we now have Coach Cal. I personally hope he retires right here at UK. He is the right coach for UK and I hope he will be for a long time!!! COACH CAL, YOUR THE BEST!!!!

  36. Azubuike's Bicep
    9:53 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    27- Be honest with yourself. We were at the pinnacle of success when he left, and you are saying there was no indication? I know that we are supposed to hate Pitino because he is at Louisville, but have some objectivity. Any rational fan would be able to recognize the possibilities had he stayed.

  37. mikey
    9:58 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Excellent piece.

  38. davefromdagap
    9:59 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    I gotta be honest. As much hatred as Ive had for the dirty birds in the past, I find its worn off. Same for the.Dirty Snitchs south of the border. Matter of fact, I find it to be the case with many of our enemies(except Duke). So I ask myself, “Self, what the hell has happened to us? Is it because we’ll be turning 50? Our we growing soft in our middle age?” Then, self answered the question, cleared the air with just one, vile word. INDIANA. My distain for new Red Plague is so great, its sucked the hatred right outta of the other enimies for me.

  39. Big D
    10:01 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    1998 would be no guaruntee I could maybe see 3 more though but UK has won 2 more and favorite to win 3 more we wouldnt have Cal unless of course Pitino won some more then left for the NBA and got Cal either way Cal can win a few more and make us forget

  40. Ditto
    10:06 am April 4, 2013 Permalink


  41. Beatle Bum
    10:07 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    I do not think Rick thought the ’98 team had enough talent. With RP, I doubt UK returns to the final game. That team was perfect for Tubby’s style. Bobby Knight mentioned that he had never seen a center improve from one year to the next like Nazr. Rick’s style would not have flattered those players. Pitino hired Magloire’s coach to land Jamaal. Recruiting was hurting. But, people can believe what they want.

  42. WouldaCouldaShoulda
    10:14 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Calipari prolly wouldn’t be here if he had drafted Kobe Bryant instead of Kerry Kittles. Woulda Coulda Shoulda. I think it’s all worked out in the end.

  43. Zach
    10:24 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Even if Louisville won it all this year, we all know Pitino’s 1996 Kentucky basketball team was and still is better.

  44. blueinmemphis
    10:31 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    The Celtics had a 36% chance of getting the 1st draft choice, and selecting Duncan. While that is a better chance than other teams, it’s still just 36%. A little over a 1 in 3 chance. He bet his legacy on a 1 in 3 opportunity + $70m. I think the money had more to do with it than Rick wants to admit. The draft potential was a bonus, but I think the money and fame was the real reason.

  45. Jackson Purchase
    10:31 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    @14 If Tubby gets all the credit for molding that 98 team and winning with chemistry why couldnt he do it again in the next 10 years he coached at UK? Oh yeah he recruited those players starting after the 98 team.

  46. SeoulCat
    10:34 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    So, by saying that “Pitino left Kentucky for Tim Duncan?..Actually, I guess that’s fair,” you are insinuating that the opportunity to coach Duncan is more attractive than the opportunity to coach at the most storied program in the history of college basketball? And you write for a site called “KENTUCKY Sports Radio” because…? I’ve officially jumped on the Corey Hate Bandwagon. Matt, clean house and dump these incognito Card fans and OMG! teenybopper, 14-year-old female writers. KSR may get more hits than it used to, and the radio show is gold, but the site is just a shell of its former self.

  47. whats going on
    10:51 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Lets have articles about Pitino when the Spring football game is less than a week away.
    Who cares about Pitino!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  48. KD
    10:52 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    10) That was all too obvious to me at the time.
    45) 2003 team was it….just goes to show what can happen in a single -elimination tourney. Izzo owned Tubby in the tourney.
    Pitino would probably have more titles if he stayed at UK….one thing I’m fairly certain of….after giving Coach K the one (at least the Final Four berth )in 1992, I don’t think he would have given him another. Whether Pitino would have 4 titles is pretty speculative, but I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to suggest that if RP stayed at UK, Coach K would not have 4….Coach…oh, sleazebag at UCONN, help me out here….probably would have fewer wins as well.

  49. Chas
    11:16 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    If RP would have stayed at Kentucky, we would not have endured a decade worth of mediocrity under flubby.

    Without RP, Flubby would not have won the title in 98. Just a fact….

    Flubby has been exposed for years now to be a lazy, half baked coach that has earned millions off RP’s success.

    Dare to challenge flubby lovers??

  50. Sheeeeiiit
    11:22 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    38 – that was perfect! I am with you. I have a serious deep seeded disdain for this new IU gang. It has resulted in a large chunk of my hate for rivals being reserved for watching IU suck/lose. However, I must say KSR is refueling my dislike for the cards with the constant attention they give Rick and UL. I can’t understand the repeated posts about UL/RP. This is a UK site isn’t it?

  51. Maxbps8
    11:48 am April 4, 2013 Permalink

    What if UK had won in ’97, would Pitino have left? I don’t think so. The opportunity to 3-peat would just be too big, historical. And from there…who knows. Pitino would have five or more NC’s had he stayed.

  52. lol re re
    12:34 pm April 4, 2013 Permalink

    16… shutup dude.. just shutup.. elite 8 (ship if not for an off-shooting night), final 4 (w/out enes), 38-2 (albeit after a buzzer beater in most hostile environment ever), a down year, best team in history (on paper)… just zip it

  53. dsfasd
    12:36 pm April 4, 2013 Permalink

    16- duh CAL took UMASS to FF, Memphis to Championship game (that they shouldve won if douglas-roberts can hit free throws), UK without Enes to FF & championship the next year.. he’s definitely matching ricky p and will surpass him in any/every category, just shutup (and dont give me crap about cal cheating, if thats the case have someone/anyone prove it)

  54. 4 Titles??
    1:34 pm April 4, 2013 Permalink

    I’m sure that stellar class of Myron Anthony and Ryan Hogan was going to lead Pitino to glory … BS. He wasn’t recruiting as well at the end. He knew he had nowhere to go but down after that crazy run.

  55. chas
    2:23 pm April 4, 2013 Permalink

    54, You are forgetting that Elton Brand, Shane Battier, and William Avery were all Kentucky leans until RP’s flitation with the NBA got out of hand near the end.

    Why would RP’s “crazy run” as you mentioned have stoppped?

    Please explain….

  56. Dee W
    2:29 pm April 4, 2013 Permalink

    #49 – another revisionist historian peeks out his head. A “decade” of mediocrity?

    Tubby Smith record at Kentucky:

    1997 – 1998 – 35-4 overall, 14-2 SEC, SEC regular season champions, SEC tournament Champions, NCAA Champions, SEC Coach of the Year

    1998 – 1999 – 28-9 overall, 11-5 SEC, SEC tournament Champions, NCAA Elite 8

    1999 – 2000 – 23-10 overall, 12-4 SEC, SEC regular season Champions (tied), NCAA 2nd round

    2000 – 2001 – 24-10 overall, 12-4 SEC, SEC regular season Champions (tied), SEC tournament Champions, NCAA Sweet 16

    2001 – 2002 – 22-10 overall, 10-6 SEC, NCAA Sweet 16

    2002 – 2003 – 32-4 overall, 16-0 SEC, SEC regular season Champions, SEC tournament Champions, Granted #1 seed NCAA tournament, NCAA Elite Eight, SEC Coach of the Year, Naismith National Coach of the Year, Henry Iba Award for best national coach of the year

    2003 – 2004 – 27-5 overall, 13-3 SEC, SEC tournament Champions, Granted #1 overall seed NCAA tournament, NCAA 2nd round

    2004 – 2005 – 28-6 overall, 14-2 SEC, SEC regular season Champions, SEC tournament runner-up, NCAA Elite Eight, SEC Coach of the Year, Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year

    2005 – 2006 – 22-13 overall, 9-7 SEC, NCAA 2nd round

    2006 – 2007 – 22-12 overall, 9-7 SEC, NCAA 2nd round

  57. Jackie Moon
    7:06 pm April 4, 2013 Permalink

    Well said #16. You have to give props to Ricky P.