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March Madness: Rick Pitino, Louisville happy to be back in Big Dance

Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals

Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals in action against the Duke Blue Devils during the Quarterfinals of the ACC Basketball Tournament at the Barclays Center on March 9, 2017. Credit: Getty Images / Al Bello

INDIANAPOLIS — You might think that at age 64 and after 32 seasons as a college coach, the NCAA Tournament has become old hat for Rick Pitino.

Um, no. First of all, he was denied a visit last year when the Cardinals skipped postseason play because of a self-imposed ban in the wake of a sordid recruiting scandal.

Second of all, well . . . no, this never gets old.

“It’s always my favorite time of the year,” Pitino, an alumnus of St. Dominic High School in Oyster Bay, said Thursday at a news conference in advance of No. 2 seed Louisville’s first-round game against No. 15 Jacksonville State on Friday.

“I missed it terribly when I was in the pros [with the Knicks and Celtics]. All the guys on the bus in the pros were talking about what team they’re picking. It’s just an exciting time of year. You realize it’s just Russian Roulette. Anybody can beat you on a given night.”

Pitino was reminded of that later in the day, when his son, Richard, who coaches Minnesota, lost to 12th-seeded Middle Tennessee State in the first round.

Pitino said half the fun is the fact everyone has an opinion — most of them wrong. He said his wife texted him Thursday morning to brief him on which experts were picking the Cardinals to go far.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just worked out at the ‘Y’ and somebody was telling me we were going to go far,’ ” he said. “That guy at the ‘Y’ is every bit as good as the people you just mentioned.”

Pitino said he was bad at filling out NCAA brackets himself during his time in the pros.

“We had a neighborhood in New York where everybody filled out their brackets,” he said. “And this guy, Angelo, won the bracket because Angelo picked Valparaiso to go far [in 1998], because you get so many points to go with your seed.

“He was from Italy. He thought Valparaiso was an Italian university.”


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