Father vs. son, Rick vs. Richard Pitino. Louisville vs. Minnesota.
The opening game of the 2014-15 college season with the spotlight focused on UofL basketball at the US Coast Guard Air Station in Borinquen, Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
While it is too soon for speculation on coaching succession, some can’t help but wonder whether this is the present vs. the future for one of the nation’s top programs. Rumors a while back that Richard had been unofficially christened as the coach in waiting at UofL were quietly dismissed by the administration. But the possibility remains in the minds of many if Richard continues his winning ways.
Rick Pitino is not going to retire as long as his love of basketball and the flare for competition continues to consume his every waking minute. He is the face of Louisville basketball, having built upon and enhanced a proven brand, compiling a 341-117 won-lost record in 13 seasons, including three Final Fours and a national championship. A Hall of Fame coach ready for new challenges, eager to add more national championships at UofL.
Richard is entering his third year as a head basketball coach. After turning a losing Florida International program into a winner with a 18-14 record in 2012-13, he was hired by Minnesota, guiding the Golden Gophers to a 25-13 record and a National Invitation Tournament (NIT) championship during his first season. He is young, lean and hungry, personally driven, and driven by the old man. A winner chasing a winner.
Dad enters the game with a new lineup after losing key players from a recruiting class that posted the most wins in the school’s history. Playing with an untested and unpredictable center whether he goes with Anas Mahmoud or Mangok Mathiang at the five spot. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones have new responsibilities and roles, assuming leadership for the first time. Wayne Blackshear, after three years of ups and downs, will need to prove he’s the go-to shooter and can stay out of foul trouble.
Richard returns three guards, two seniors and a junior, from his NIT team, including Andre Hollins, who averaged 13.6 points and 3.5 assists per game, Carlos Morris 14.6 points and five rebounds, DeAndre Mathieu, 12 points and 4.2 assists. He’s starting over at center and forward, with 6-foot-11 Bakery Kanate and 6-foot-8 Josh Martin.
Should be entertaining with mirror images of the Pitinos at both ends of the court. One proving that he still has it, building on his legendary status. The other wanting to prove himself against his mentor, guardian and protector, and closest friend. And visions of what may lie ahead for both.