Upon his arrival in Athens, Rick Pitino revealed that he is willing to coach the senior national team for free as negotiations with the Hellenic Basketball Federation near a successful conclusion.
Even though it has been a few months since his departure from Panathinaikos, Pitino continues to make headlines in Greece as the former Trifylli bench boss appears to be nearing a deal to take over head coaching duties of the Ethniki.
After spending the latter half of last season in charge of Panathinaikos, Pitino opted to walk away from a contract extension but his love for Greece has seemingly lured him back to the country.
Reports broke late last week that Pitino was among the frontrunners to become the head coach of the Ethniki as early as next summer’s pre-Olympic qualifying tournament as the Hellenic Basketball Federation (EOK) seems keen to take a new approach to its coaching staff.
Pitino arrived in Athens on Thursday afternoon and will take in Friday’s EuroLeague clash between Panathinaikos and Valencia. The legendary American coach subsequently revealed that he is prepared to coach the national team for free: “I don’t want any money, it will be an honour for me to coach the national team. To me, that’s worth a million dollars, the honour of coaching Greece. I am ready for the challenge. We’ll speak with the federation and hopefully we will find an agreement. I’m excited to be back here and I am looking forward to it!”
“There is still nothing definitive with the federation, but if I take over the team, I won’t be getting any money. Not even a cent. It is a great honour to represent the people of Greece,” Pitino had said in an interview with gazzetta.gr before he flew to Athens.
“From my impression, [Pitino] comes to offer his services. He has not prioritized his earnings. I have not agreed with anyone, but I am sure we will agree. We will meet soon. I don't think this case will break down," EOK president Giorgos Vassilakopoulos stated in a recent interview when asked about the negotiations with Pitino.
Reports had previously suggested that the EOK wanted to appoint a Greek coach instead of a foreign specialist. What handcuffs the EOK, however, is the fact that many of the top candidates for the Ethniki hotseat remain under contract with their club sides, include Dimitris Itoudis with CSKA Moscow and current Panathinaikos head coach Argyris Pedoulakis.
By seeking, in theory, a second head coach for the Ethniki, the EOK will be trying to implement a two-coach system: one coach responsible for qualifying, another responsible for the major tournaments like the Olympics, FIBA World Cup, and even EuroBasket. The setup will be a unique one, though it won’t be the first time that a federation will use a two-coach system with the United States one of the most popular examples of employing two different coaches for qualifying and final tournaments.
A point of consideration for the EOK will be the new coach’s ability to work with current Ethniki bench boss, Thanasis Skourtopoulos, who despite his faults at the most recent FIBA World Cup in China did navigate Greece through the qualifying round with relative ease despite several hurdles during roster selection.
The EOK has already green-lighted Skourtopoulos’ extension to stay on through the qualifying campaign for EuroBasket 2021 – a journey that begins for the Ethniki in February. Skourtopoulos will also be seeking a spot in the coaching staff for the major tournaments, which should force the EOK to consider the dynamic between Skourtopoulos and the man the federation appoints as his successor for major tournaments.
By Peter Katsiris
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