Rick Pitino answers: What's happened to LI basketball?
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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Rick Pitino is walking, talking proof that the first rule of basketball is this: Things change. Here he is, the former NCAA championship coach of Kentucky, coaching top-seeded Louisville Thursday night in an NCAA game on Kentucky's court. Of course, his old friends recognize him as a guy from Long Island, which has changed plenty in its own right.
A day before his Big East championship team was to play long shot North Carolina A & T, Pitino was asked about his New York roots. He spoke of his birth in Manhattan, his adolescence in Queens. "Then my sophomore year, I moved to Long Island," said the coach who played for St. Dominic in Oyster Bay.
"Back then there were about a million and a half people on Long Island and [L.I.] Lutheran was great and St. Agnes was rolling with Frank Morris. There were about 30 Division I basketball players," he said. "Today, there are about three million people on Long Island and you're lucky to find five Division I players a year.
"How can you double a population and say why ? It's called affluence. Long Island was blue collar -- every town was blue collar," he said. "The rich happened to move out to Long Island and there goes basketball."
Pitino was on target with his figures -- the 2010 census for Nassau and Suffolk was 2,832,882 -- and his talent evaluation. It isn't the 1960 and 1970s, when the Island produced Julius Erving, Randy Smith, Mitch Kupchak, Foots Walker, Jeff Ruland and others. Things change.
North Carolina-based Davidson, which will play Marquette here Thursday in the game before Louisville's, is coached by Bob McKillop, who on Wednesday spoke of having played high school ball for Chaminade, and played pickup games with his best buddy Kevin Joyce -- "who moved out to Long Island with me." McKillop later played for Hofstra and caught Davidson's attention with his success at coaching Holy Trinity and Long Island Lutheran.
So at least there is a touch of Long Island flavor in this regional. For the most part, though, this has a pure Kentucky bluegrass feel. At the open practice Wednesday, most of the fans wore Louisville Cardinals red. Given the staunch rivalry between Louisville and Kentucky, it was hard not to notice Louisville's status in this tournament, in the Wildcats' Rupp Arena at a time when Kentucky already has been eliminated from the NIT.
"I just don't have the personality to revel in anybody else's failure," Pitino said. "They won a championship last year. They had one of the best teams we've gone against."