Greece’s new coach Pitino says “I’m now a Greek for eight months”



New head coach of the Greek national team, Rick Pitino, spoke to the media at his first press conference since the announcement was made saying, “For the next eight months I’m not American, I’m not Italian – I am Greek. This is the way I will carry myself. You won’t see anybody who will bleed every possession like I do to win a game. This is very important to me and significant to everybody in Greece who has treated me with such kindness.”

Pitino, 67, has agreed to coach the Greek national team for the Olympic qualification tournament and the Olympic Games itself – assuming Greece qualify. The legendary American boss had coached Panathinaikos during the 2018/2019 campaign, endearing himself to Greek fans with his unique, charismatic approach to the game and his excellent results. Pitino took Panathinaikos to the EuroLeague playoffs and claimed the domestic double.

Today, Pitino spoke at a press conference organised by the Hellenic Basketball Federation:

Opening statement: “This is how it started. First of all, I’d like to embarrass someone who I call my Greek brother from another mother. Angelos is the reason I came to Greece in the first place! I had sent him a text message asking about how the guys were playing with the national team as they tried to make the Olympics, and it went back and forth with each game and each possession. When the national team didn’t advance, he suggested that I coach Greece to help them qualify for the Olympics. You know, I’ve been mountain climbing for all of my life. I had my first coaching job with Boston University, and they hadn’t had a winning season in 15 years. After I was the assistant coach of the New York Knicks, Providence College was next. They were in dead last place. When I took over the Knicks, they won 23 games two years in a row. When I took over Kentucky, they were on probation. When I took over the Celtics, they won 15 games. When I took over Louisville, they were struggling. When I took over Panathinaikos, they were in 13th place with one road victory. The reason I mention this is not to go through my resume, but because I have arrived at another mountain to climb. This one is the most enjoyable. In all my years, I’ve interacted with some of the most wonderful, charismatic and outstanding athletes in the world of basketball. However, out of all the mountains I’ve climbed, the Greek players stand out. This doesn’t just concern the Panathinaikos players either, it concerns Giorgos and Kostas from Olympiacos and also Kostas Koufos of CSKA, who I recruited in high school. They all have this special quality which I haven’t seen in my 40 years; an incredible pride in their country. I thought to myself that it is an incredible thing for me as a coach to try and get these young men, in their prime, to make the Olympics. They might not get another chance. If this happens, it will be the crown for me as a basketball coach to see us climb the mountain and get there. This is one of the greatest honours I’ve had. I consider this so special, because it’s a mountain which is so worth climbing. If we make it to the top, it will be very special. Over the course of the next five months, I will do everything possible to put together a great team with the right attitude and the willingness to act like a starving wolf who hasn’t eaten in a week to win a basketball game. Sometimes you learn from the past, sometimes you cherish the past. I certainly do. However, this isn’t about Panathinaikos, Olympiacos or AEK – this is about Greece. For the next eight months, I’m not American, I’m not Italian – I am Greek. This is the way I will carry myself. You won’t see anybody who will bleed every possession like I do to win a game. This is very important to me and significant to everybody in Greece who has treated me with such kindness. This is a way of paying back people for the great kindness I received. I’ve been in contact with players who make up the nucleus of this team, either in person or by text. Also, I contacted players who are in other countries. I will get together with them in the next few months. Being the national team coach is a distinction which I won’t take lightly, this is an honour which I will serve to the best of my ability. When the brackets are announced, I can study the potential opponents. It will be a mountain to climb, but I have great confidence in the Greek ball players. They are intelligent, they’re competitive, they love their country and they will do anything to win. It will be exciting to coach young men like that.”

Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo: “I’m planning on meeting them in March when they play against the Miami Heat. I’ll take them to dinner and we will sit down together. As you know, Giannis is off to a great start and he’s playing tremendous basketball, and my research tells me that he is fully focused on the Milwaukee Bucks and trying to win a championship. This is why I haven’t contacted him yet. There is a possibility that he won’t be with us in the qualifying round if he goes far. I understood that when I entered the situation, and this is why we have such a mountain to climb. Nevertheless, I still want to meet him. I know Thanasis very well. I’ve been in touch with Giannis’ agents, and I believe he will play at the Olympics if we qualify. I’m planning on trying to come back in early January to go to Olympiacos because they will play with Fenerbahce as well as Tyler Dorsey’s team Maccabi. It’s always best to evaluate in person. I know the Panathinaikos players very well, and the same goes for the two Olympiacos players. I am super impressed with them as people, not just players. Giannis is a bridge which we need to cross later on. We will still leave a roster spot, though, even if he has to take my place.”

Changing the mentality of the team: “Sometimes, in both college and professional basketball, you have four to six weeks in order to prepare your team. Now, it’s a lot different, as we will only have two weeks. Preparation and scouting are important. Motivation is the key to overachieving on a basketball court.”

Wage with the national team: “There is no money, there is no job. This would not allow me to work with the national team. This isn’t a job; this is an honour. I take this very seriously. This is a distinction which I will cherish for as long as I live.”

Why he came back to Greece: “When I went back home, people asked me what I think of Mykonos, Athens, Crete and, Santorini. I said that they are all beautiful places, but what made it special for me was the people. Just walking on the street people would say hello, give me a coffee and embrace me. The Greek people created an insatiable desire inside to coach this team.”

Using Giannis Antetokounmpo: “The defensive rules in FIBA basketball made the difference at the FIBA World Cup. I remember when the Brazilian coach said that he kicked Giannis’ butt and I responded on Twitter. When we lose, I always congratulate the opponents. Giannis was the best player in the NBA last season, the elite league. Giannis needs to create for the other players because he has a unique ability. I believe that the other coach utilised him correctly, they lost at the buzzer and you give the other team credit. You walk out with class and dignity.”

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*Image by Eurokinissi


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