Old friends Pitino and Donovan at odds

Several relationships will be put aside for a couple of hours when the University of Louisville and Florida get together in the NCAA Elite Eight basketball showdown Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

  • Coach and player, dating back to 1987 when Rick Pitino was coaching Providence and Billy Donovan was quarterbacking the team at point guard. It was Pitino who gave Donovan the nickname of “Billy the Kid.” Defying overwhelming odds they would make the Final Four that year, passing through Louisville and Freedom Hall along the way.
  • Teacher and student. It’s obvious in the way Donovan dresses and talks that he patterns much of what he says and does after Pitino. Not that he’s a clone, but Donovan draws from the best of Pitino’s considerable postive attributes and applies them to his job and his life.
  • Career counseling and advice. We’re pretty confident that Donovan came to Pitino for advice three seasons ago when the University of Kentucky offered Donovan the head coaching spot at UK. Don’t know exactly what Pitino told him, but Donovan turned it down. Pitino would feel the effects of whatever Donovan decided, with the job eventually being confiscated by Kentucky’s second choice and Pitino’s nemisis, Memphis coach John Calipari.
  • Best friends. For the sake of a close family friendship, it was Billy Donovan who took Richard Pitino under his wing at Florida a few months before details surfaced of Rick’s involvement in the Karen Sypher affairs. Donovan did it at Rick’s request, just as he took in John Pelphrey at Pitino’s urging after Pelphrey was fired at Arkansas last season. Billy would send Richard back to Louisville after Sypher was tucked away.

Pitino has lots on mind as game time approaches, not the least of which is getting his team to not look past Florida to a possible matchup with Kentucky in the Final Four.

But he also has another lesson to pass on to Donovan, that one’s livelihood and loyalty to players and school must come first. They know the strength of the relationship will endure whatever challenges the game provides.

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Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.