Pitino: “If I can get my family on board, I will return”
Following the 111-77 victory against Promitheas which confirmed Panathinaikos as 2018/2019 Basket League champions, American head coach Rick Pitino shed some light on his future with the Athenians.
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2:0 up in the series, Panathinaikos were overwhelming favourites to clinch the Basket League championship on Friday. Eager to put on a show for their fans, the Trifylli were ruthless throughout the game, scoring 111 points compared to Promitheas’ 77 to comfortably win the domestic championship for the 38th time in their history.
Rick Pitino, the current Panathinaikos head coach, shared his elation with the media: “When I arrived here six months ago, I had three goals,” began Pitino. “I wanted to make the team stronger in both defence and attack, while helping the players reach their potential. My third target was to build the right culture. I had to make the players play as if it was their last possession with the ball.
Everyone has improved. Six months ago, I couldn’t even say their names, but Giorgos Papagiannis, Ioannis Papapetrou and Thanasis Antetokounmpo have all become better players and this is important. My team has improved and I feel great because of that.”
“In New York, I will have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to speak to all my children,” continued the American when asked if he will return to Panathinaikos next season. “If I can get them on board, I will return. If I can’t get them on all on board, then I won’t. It’s very simple. We are a very strong family. Like the Greek families. It’s got to be one for all and all for one.
I want them to understand how much passion [I have]. How much I love the game of basketball. Between the sidelines, it’s my home for 40 years. Without it, I’m an empty man.”
“You have to understand is that if I come back, I give up college basketball forever,” stated Pitino. “It could never happen because I couldn’t leave Panathinaikos for a college in March or April. If I come back, it’s Panathinaikos and then death.
If you asked me a couple of days ago, then I’d tell you that it’s just 5% I’ll stay with Panathinaikos. Now, it’s 50-50. We met with Dimitris and he presented me the budget for next season. I cried. And I asked him why you are doing this, putting 10 or 12 million euros out of your pocket? He said to me: “Coach, that’s my legacy from my father. And I know that others can pay you more, but if I could, I would give you triple times the money”. You know I am old. And that struck a chord with me. I am at a point in my life that the issue is not money. And I have never heard anything like that before.”
For his part, Panathinaikos BC owner Dimitris Giannakopoulos confirmed that he wants Pitino to stay in Athens: “We have one of the best coaches in the world. I am optimistic. We share the same ideas in terms of basketball. Rick himself wants to stay, but he needs to decide family issues before making a final decision. It is a matter of days before we know what will happen. A move to Votanikos? If we can construct a home for the Panathinaikos organisation there, we won’t say no. The OAKA is an old arena and has some downfalls, but we have won a lot here and we’re emotionally attached to the stadium.”
Nick Calathes, who was at his best in the series against Promitheas, revealed his wish for Panathinaikos to return to the Final Four of the EuroLeague: “One of our goals was the championship, another was the cup. I wished we could have qualified for the Final Four of the EuroLeague, but after making the playoffs, we played against a good Real Madrid team. I want to return to the Final Four of the EuroLeague again.”
The ageing James Gist, now 32 years of age, stated his desire to remain with Panathinaikos: “Yes, I want to stay with Panathinaikos, but the decision is not in my hands, unfortunately. I love Athens, it’s my second home after the USA, and I love the basketball, the supporters and the food. Promitheas? They deserve credit for what they achieved in the Basket League and the Basketball Champions League. Promitheas have a strong team with a good coach.”
Promitheas boss Makis Giatras also expressed his opinions on the Basket League final in his press-conference: “Congratulations to Panathinaikos. If someone told me that I would coach in a final with Rick Pitino, I would have called it more than a dream. However, I would also like to congratulate my team. Today we can celebrate, but tomorrow we start from scratch again. I hope to win many titles with these talented young players I have in my squad in Patras.”