Richard Pitino uses lessons from father while finding own way

MINNEAPOLIS – When Syracuse takes the court Monday in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, Jim Boeheim will once again be scheming how to beat a fellow coach by the name of Pitino.

This guy, though, is actually a newcomer to the scene – Richard Pitino, who will bring Minnesota to the Lahaina Civic Center.

The son of Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino has absorbed as much of his father’s wisdom, style and wit as possible over the years growing up with and later working for him.

Richard Pitino, though, has his own program to run.

“I definitely don’t try to get away from it. I embrace it,” Richard Pitino said. “People always say, ‘How can you live up to your dad?’ I’m not trying to do that. The guy has won two national titles. He’s been to seven Final Fours. Won over 600 games. So if I’m trying to live up to him, I’m going to be a very unhappy person. I don’t do that. I’m proud of him. He’s taught me a lot.”

After serving as an assistant at Louisville under his father, and at Florida, under Billy Donovan, another Rick Pitino protege, Richard Pitino became a head coach last season for the first time, leading Florida International to its first winning season in 13 years.

Minnesota then needed a replacement for Tubby Smith, and while his father was in the process of leading Louisville to the national title, Richard Pitino was the pick for the Gophers.

“He obviously knows what he’s doing. He’s learned from the best,” said junior guard Andre Hollins.

The son doesn’t run from the father when selling recruits on the full-court press and fast-breaking, shoot-often offense he’s brought to Minnesota.

“Tell them to watch the national championship game because the team that won the national title plays that style,” Richard Pitino said. “I believe in the style of play, and it’s been proven to win and we’re going to hang our hat on it.”

Among the other similarities is the Pitinos’ straightforward approach with players.

“That’s kind of what I’ve grown up around, working for my dad, working for Billy Donovan,” Richard Pitino said. “There wasn’t really a lot of mind games. Very, very honest. Very upfront with them. That’s the only way, in my opinion, they’re going to learn. So I’m not going to tell them what they want to hear. I’m going to tell them what I believe and what they need to work on. I think they like that better.”

So far, so good. The Gophers will take a 5-0 record into their game against the ninth-ranked Orange.

“He’s been real honest with us. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He tells us the way we need to hear it, and that helps us in the end,” said senior forward Austin Hollins.

That blunt talk doesn’t always mean negative. Smith was frequently critical, especially during losing streaks, and the players have clearly responded to the fresh wave of optimism and encouragement the new coach has brought.

“Our biggest strength is positivity. With that, that’s going to bring us confidence,” said senior guard Maverick Ahanmisi. “I think it’s the mentality that the coaching staff really brought in. They’ve been good to us. We love them to death. We work hard for them. They work hard for us. So it’s good team chemistry.”