• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Here's Johnny

I’d planned on doing a year-in-review sort of thing for the final “Here’s Johnny” of 2015. Then, I listened to one too many sports call-in shows, and I changed my mind. Let me set the stage for the few of you who haven’t followed the events of Saturday, Dec. 26, at Rupp Arena and their aftermath. The Kentucky Wildcats beat in-state arch-rival Louisville Cardinals 75-73. After the game, the man who brought the UK basketball program back to the top after scandal and probation walked off the court. Some Cats fans who’ve never forgiven Rick Pitino for leaving 18 years ago hollered awful things to him – things they’d never have the courage to say had they been face-to-face with the man or sober. Pitino responded, apparently, by flipping them the Cardinal. (A cardinal, you see, is both the mascot of U of L and a bird, and … ah, you got it.) Or he may not have. I can’t tell. I have better things to do than scrutinize Pitino’s walk to the locker room as if it was the sports equivalent of the Zapruder film. I don’t care if he did flip ’em the Cardinal. In fact, I hope he did – because they had it coming. Here’s what even the biggest of the Big Blue losers should holler at Rick Pitino: “Thank you,” not “Blank you.” How soon some folks forget. Rick Pitino was named head coach at UK in 1989 after the team’s first losing season in more than six decades. The program had been caught cheating by the Herald-Leader and, a few years later, the NCAA. They made the cover of Sports Illustrated, all right – the headline was “Kentucky’s Shame.” The players who greeted Pitino were slow, small and sad. Even if they got in the best shape of their lives and played the helter-skelter basketball their head coach was known for, and even if they were better than many thought, they’d be banned from post-season play for two years. That first year, Pitino’s Bombinos were 14-14 (tripling Cawood Ledford’s private prediction of wins). Their second year, they won the SEC regular season title and finished 22-6. You know the rest. Having reached the pinnacle of his profession, after eight years, Pitino looked for even greener pastures: big bucks with the Boston Celtics – you know, like more than a dozen of John Calipari’s players did after one season. It was the right move for Cal’s guys, just as it was for Pitino. Pitino’s time with the Celtics ended with an early resignation. He had failed – just like nearly every one of us has done many times in our lives. He’s had a few problems since – just like nearly every one of us has had many times in our lives. After a short time out of coaching, Pitino took the job at the University of Louisville. Many Cats fans called him a traitor and worse for taking the best head coaching job available in a state he’d grown to love. It’s one thing to root against a player, team or coach, and quite another to wish them ill. And it’s one thing to treat 18- and 19-year-olds as deities because they’ve worked hard to be good at a sport, and quite another to believe their wins and losses have an impact on your life. Rick Pitino doesn’t owe anybody an apology if he flipped a bunch of cowardly idiots the Cardinal (though he should have attended the post-game news conference). Quite the opposite. Pitino was at UK for eight years. In the pre-one-and-done era, he won with players, many from Kentucky, who stayed four years and graduated. John Calipari’s been at UK for six-and-a-half years. He’s won with players who, few from Kentucky, stayed one or two years and didn’t graduate. Of course, It’s not Cal’s fault that he’s able to bring in the best recruits every year who know his coaching and style of play will get them to the pros on time, nor is it his fault the NBA uses college basketball as a developmental league. Still: Shouldn’t we treat Rick Pitino just as well as we do the other well-dressed Italian-American doing a great job on the UK sidelines? I reckon so. As always, feel free to write me at john@woodfordsun.com or call me at 873-4131, ext. 13 if you want to chat about this column. If I find your arguments spurious and your attitude mean-spirited, I won’t promise that I won’t silently flip you the Cardinal. Dear Readers, thank you for your time, God Bless, and Happy New Year.

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