Rick Pitino failed to land a new job with a college basketball team or NBA franchise, but he may get the opportunity to coach one of the best players in the world. The former Kentucky and Louisville coach is back in Greece, and has confirmed that he will have talks to take over the country’s national team.
The Greek national team features reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. While it didn’t sound like Pitino was keen on a return to Greek basketball after leading Panathinaikos in the EuroLeague last season, it sounds like this new opportunity may bring him back to the country.
It was previously reported that the Greek basketball federation planned to meet with Pitino about the position. He wouldn’t confirm it at the time, saying that he was just heading to Greece to see friends.
Now, Pitino says he will be in the meeting, and confirmed his interest in the team. European basketball site TalkBasket.net quoted Pitino from an interview he gave to Greek national television in Athens earlier today:
“I’ll see the game (Panathinaikos vs. Valencia in the EuroLeague) on Friday, visit my friends and meet with the Federation about possibly the [Greek] national team.
“I look forward to the challenge. It’s going to be a big challenge if it happens. But it’s exciting. I’m going to speak to the Federation. I haven’t met them yet. I’m going to speak to them tomorrow or the next day.
“I think the challenge lies because they didn’t qualify (to the Olympic Games). And to me, it’s a great honor. I’m doing this because of my love for Greece and the people.
“It will be very challenging but very rewarding. These players are all coming from professional years. So they are a little tired. Motivation is a big part of getting them ready. We will get them ready.”
While this does not sound like a done deal, some of the language Pitino used there certainly indicates heavy interest, at the very least.
According to Lithuanian basketball journalist Donatas Urbonas, there is also a chance that Pitino returns to Panathinaikos, which has struggled without him on the sideline this season. He led the team to the Greek Basketball Cup last season.
It is very unclear if Rick Pitino will ever get another major shot at coaching basketball in the United States. A return to college seems especially unlikely, as the FBI investigation into the sport’s pay-for-play scandal which ultimately cost him the Louisville job continues to unfold. Pitino didn’t exactly thrive in his two stints in the NBA, going 192-220 with just one winning season in six years between the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics.
If he forms a bond with Giannis Antetokounmpo, though, that could certainly make him an intriguing figure for the pro ranks.
Giannis is set to hit unrestricted free agency in 2021, and will be the focus of the entire NBA that summer if he doesn’t stay with the Milwaukee Bucks.