Pitino leaves Athens with two trophies in eventful stint
Earlier this summer, Rick Pitino announced that he wouldn’t be returning to Panathinaikos BC for the 2019/2020 season, in turn putting an end to his eventful stay in Athens. AGONAsport reflects.
Stunning victories, bitter defeats, two trophies, Eternal Derby controversy...Rick Pitino got a taste of everything in Greece. When he replaced Xavi Pascual at the helm in December, Panathinaikos were in the midst of an ever-increasing crisis, but the American Hall of Famer steadied the ship and got the team playing exciting, intense and intelligent basketball. It wasn’t enough to take Panathinaikos to the Final Four of the EuroLeague, but thanks to his knowhow, Panathinaikos finished the regular season in sixth place and won the Greek double.
Unfortunately for Panathinaikos fans, Pitino revealed that he wouldn’t be returning to Athens by issuing a statement on his official Twitter account in June:
Let’s take a look at some of the key moments of Pitino’s memorable stay in Greece:
December 28, 2018
You couldn’t have conjured up a more difficult scenario for Pitino. Having only arrived in Athens two days prior, the American was immediately faced with the task of his Panathinaikos side playing Russian giants CSKA Moscow at the OAKA Indoor Hall, traditionally one of the Athenians’ most awkward opponents.
Nevertheless, despite having only been in the Greek capital for 48 hours, he masterminded a memorable victory (96-84). Displaying remarkable speed and intensity, a rejuvenated Panathinaikos team put CSKA to the sword, defeating their opponents with perhaps their best performance of the entire season.
That’s what you call a strong statement of intention.
January 4, 2019
Pitino’s first major defeat at the Panathinaikos helm arrived on January 4 in Piraeus. In the build-up to the game, Pitino seemed to be enjoying his first experience of participating in the Eternal Derby, but it turned out to be a disappointing night at the Peace and Friendship Stadium. Overpowering the visitors, Olympiacos stormed to an emphatic 79-65 victory, with Pitino’s men struggling to match the hosts’ pace.
February 13, 2019
His next match against Olympiacos was certainly an interesting affair. Down 25-40 at the break in the Greek Cup semi-final, Olympiacos suddenly decided to leave the OAKA, returning to Piraeus without playing the remaining 20 minutes in protest against the refereeing. Pitino later admitted that he had never witnessed this kind of situation before in his long coaching career.
Olympiacos were consequently disqualified from the tournament.
February 17, 2019
Pitino claimed his maiden trophy in the ensuing final of the Greek Cup four days later. In the showpiece game played on neutral territory in Heraklion, Panathinaikos were given a real scare by PAOK, but the Greens’ class told in the end as they edged a tight battle by six points (79-73). This became Panathinaikos’ seventh Greek Cup triumph in just eight years.
March 15, 2019
Panathinaikos’ standout EuroLeague games of the 2018/2019 season were both against CSKA. Before the return fixture in Moscow, Panathinaikos hadn’t won in Russia for a number of years, but Pitino’s troops defied the odds to snatch a vital victory at the Megasport Arena with Nick Calathes’ nailing a last-gasp three pointer. Pitino fully engaged in the post-match celebrations in the dressing room, praising his players for following the game plan and always keeping within striking distance of CSKA. The Russians eventually went on to win the EuroLeague.
April 17, 2019
This was the chance which Panathinaikos had craved. Pitted against reigning champions Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of the EuroLeague, Panathinaikos were always going to be underdogs, but they passed up a glorious opportunity to secure a precious away win in the first match of the series. Until the closing minutes, the Trifylli were in control, however they missed several chances to kill the game and Real Madrid punished them. In his press-conference, Pitino couldn’t hide his disappointment, noting that his team should have seen the match out.
April 23, 2019
That first loss in Madrid proved to be decisive. In game two, Panathinaikos were well beaten by Real, and the Greeks then contrived to concede a third consecutive defeat in Athens (82-89) to once again miss out on the Final Four of the EuroLeague. Pitino admitted that Real Madrid were simply the stronger team when speaking to the media upon the conclusion of the match.
Panathinaikos last competed in the Final Four in 2012.
June 14, 2019
Pitino completed the Greek double with a comfortable 3-0 sweep of Promitheas Patras in the 2018/2019 Basket League final. In truth, it was a rather underwhelming end to the domestic season, with Olympiacos having been excluded from the championship after refusing to play Panathinaikos in the first round of the playoffs.