Pitino to coach Puerto Rico’s na­tional team next sum­mer

Dayton Daily News - - SPORTS - By Will Graves As­so­ci­ated Press

Rick Pitino is tak­ing on an­other re­build­ing project.

he only men’s col­lege bas­ket­ball coach to lead three teams to the Fi­nal Four has agreed to coach the Puerto Rico na­tional team next sum­mer in the FIBA Tour­na­ment of the Amer­i­cas with an eye to­ward qual­i­fy­ing for the 2012 Olympics.

“It’s a tall or­der and that’s why I’m tak­ing it,” the Louisville coach said Mon­day. “If they were al­ready in (the Olympics), I wouldn’t do it. Their backs are to the wall.”

Puerto Rico must fin­ish in the top two in next sum­mer’s tour­na­ment to travel to London in 2012. Pitino met with Dal­las Mav­er­icks guard J.J. Barea and Mi­ami Heat point guard Car­los Ar­royo — both Puerto Rico na­tives — in Mi­ami on Sun­day to gauge their in­ter­est and came away im­pressed.

“These guys, play­ing for the na­tional team is the biggest thing in the coun­try,” Pitino said. “They are very, very pas­sion­ate about it and that was a ma­jor fac­tor for me.”

Puerto Rico last qual­i­fied for the Olympics in 2004, fin­ish­ing sixth in a tour­na­ment that in­cluded a win over the United States.

Pitino is not the first high-pro­file Amer­i­can coach to pur­sue this course. For­mer Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson un­suc­cess­fully tried to get Mex­ico into the 2008 Olympics, and long­time NBA coach Del Har­ris led China to an eighth-place fin­ish in the 2004 Olympics.

Though he has no in­ter­na­tional coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, Pitino doesn’t ex­pect a dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion. He plans to bring the up­tempo sys­tem he’s used with great suc­cess at Prov­i­dence, Ken­tucky and Louisville to Puerto Rico.

“They’re a lot sim­i­lar to the way we play,” he said. “They get up and down the floor quickly.”

Pitino and Louisville di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions Ralph Wil­lard will se­lect the rest of the 12-man squad.

Wil­lard played a vi­tal role in bring­ing Pitino and Puerto Rico to­gether. Puerto Rico bas­ket­ball of­fi­cial Joel Katz, who played at Syra­cuse in the 1980s while Wil­lard was an as­sis­tant un­der Jim Boe­heim, reached out to Wil­lard to ask him if he thought Pitino would be in­ter­ested.

Rick Pitino

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