If basketball is a game of runs, Louisville coach Rick Pitino was on the mother of all runs leading into the NCAA championship game against Michigan last night at the Georgia Dome.
On Wednesday, he got a phone call telling him he'd been voted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and a simultaneous text message from his son with the news that Rick Jr. had been hired as Minnesota's coach.
On Saturday afternoon, a colt Pitino owns named Goldencents won the Santa Anita Derby, and that night, his team overcame a 12-point deficit against Wichita State, giving Pitino a shot at his second national title and a chance to become the first coach to win with two different schools.
During the news conference Monday morning announcing the 2013 Hall of Fame class, Pitino told the story of getting the phone call and the text "at the same exact moment. When I got off the phone, I was looking around for lightning to hit me."
That didn't happen until Monday night, when the Cardinals gave Pitino his second NCAA title with a rollicking 82-76 win over a Michigan team that pushed the Cardinals to the limit.
Earlier in the week, when someone mentioned his lucky streak, Pitino was careful to note that some years are better than others. That was a vague reference to the scandal that rocked his family and threatened his job four years ago when he admitted to a brief sexual affair that led to an extortion case against the woman, who was convicted two years ago.
So the Pitino who climbed out of that abyss is a different character from the ambitious, coach-on-the-make who bounced from his job as a Knicks assistant under Hubie Brown to Providence, back to the Knicks for a two-year stint as head coach, then to Kentucky, where he won his first national title in 1996 before signing a $50-million contract to run the Boston Celtics in 1997.
Pitino says it was his failures with the Celtics that changed him. When he was with the Knicks, his good buddies Dick McGuire and Fuzzy Levane told him the difference between good coaches and bad is the players at their disposal. But that didn't really sink in until the ping pong balls in the NBA draft went the wrong way and he missed out on Tim Duncan.
"If I had one regret in life, it wouldn't be what you'd think," Pitino told the media Sunday. "It's that I wasn't more humble at an earlier age . . . When you fail with the Celtics, suddenly the full-court press didn't get you over the hump, the three-point shot, the motion didn't get you over the hump. You truly realize why you win and lose."
This was Pitino's second straight trip to the Final Four, and he has celebrated the journey and the relationships with his players above all else. A cynic might wonder if it's false humility, but his players have noticed a marked change since he was able to move beyond the scandal.
"After that year, he took time off with his family and he came back energized and ready to go," Louisville point guard Peyton Siva said. "He said we made every day fun for him. These last couple years, you can tell a major difference. It's awesome to see the way he's lightened up and his mood has changed. He really brought a light to this team, and we feed off his energy."
As if to put an exclamation point on his new attitude, Pitino vowed to fulfill his promise to the players: If they won the title, he'd get a tattoo.
Oh, what a lucky man Pitino is to have figured it out.