It is hard to believe, but no coach has won NCAA Tournament championships at more than one school. One would think in 75 years it would have been done by now. Several coaches have been to Final Fours with more than one school. Roy Williams immediately comes to mind as he took the Kansas Jayhawks there in 2003 when he lost to the Syracuse Orange in the championship game. Then in 2005 he won the national championship with the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Pitino himself has coached three different schools in the Final Four. He took the Providence Friars there in 1987 before taking the Kentucky Wildcats there in 1996 and 1997. The Cats won it all in 1996 over the Orange and then lost to the Arizona Wildcats in overtime of the championship game in 1997. This is his third trip to the Final Four with the Cardinals. His Cards lost in the semifinals in 2005 and 2012.
This Louisville team is favored to bring Pitino his second national championship and he will make history if they do. Pitino is the master re-builder. He took the Wildcats over after they were riddled with NCAA sanctions. With a team of scrappy but not highly recruited players known as “the Unforgettables” he came within a miracle Christian Laettner shot of getting them to the Final Four in 1992. But after “The Unforgettables” left, he started bringing in some NBA talent to UK. Jamal Mashburn, Antoine Walker and company was within a play or two of winning three titles in a row. The 1998 Cats coached by Tubby Smith with Pitino’s players won another NCAA Tournament.
But Pitino has gone about things a bit differently with the Cardinals. In this day of “one and done” freshman stars that his rival school Kentucky thrives upon, Pitino has built a team of really good four year players. The Cards are getting it done with guys like Peyton Siva, Georgi Deng and Russ Smith who have been together for three years now and have led Louisville to two Final Fours.
As a fan of college basketball, it is easy to root for Pitino against Kentucky and John Calipari. Pitino is running a college basketball program and not an NBA pit stop where players come in and play for one year, take six hours and move on to the draft. Both methods will have resulted in national championships the last two seasons if the Cards go on to win it all as expected, but the Louisville method would seem to be more fun for the fans. They get to watch and root for their guys for three or four years. UK guys are here today and gone tomorrow. The fans hardly get to know them before they are on to the NBA.
It is nice to see the Pitinos of the world be successful in this era of one and done players. After last season, it appeared Calipari’s revolving door method was going to be the blueprint on how to win in college basketball going forward. And while he may win it all again next year, we still have guys like Pitino and his protege Billy Donovan getting far in the tournament with juniors and seniors.