The younger Pitino spent this past season, his first as a head coach, at Florida International after the departure of Isaiah Thomas. Left with just three scholarship players and without a winning season in 13 years, the Golden Panthers went 18-14 and made it to the championship game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament under Pitino’s tutelage.
There is the obvious recognition in college basketball circles that comes with the last name Pitino, but Richard has a solid resume as an assistant coach despite being just 30 years old. He worked under his father at Louisville from 2007-2009 and again for the 2011-2012 season, with a stint as an assistant under Billy Donovan at Florida in between from 2009-2011. Prior to joining his father at Louisville, Richard also served as an assistant at Northeastern and Duquesne during the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons respectively.
Only time will tell if Pitino is the right hire, and it’s possible he views his new job as a stepping stone to bigger things. But his success at Florida International with the limiting circumstances he faced should create plenty of optimism for the Gophers’ men’s basketball program. Athletic director Norwood Teague, hand-in-hand with associate athletic director Mike Ellis, will surely make sure Pitino has what he needs to succeed. A new practice facility, which Smith may have been promised by Teague’s predecessor, should clearly be on the horizon now.
Minnesota also has three highly touted in-state recruits for the first time in memory, with Tyus Jones (Apple Valley) Rashad Vaughn (Robbinsdale-Cooper) and Reid Travis (DeLaSalle) in the Class of 2014 and being pursued by several major-conference schools. The hiring of Pitino may put the Gophers back in the mix for all three players, but that is a big unknown at this point. With three starters (Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman) and multiple other players coming back next season, a return to the NCAA Tournament is not out of the question in Pitino’s first season at the helm.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.