Sources: Pitino near deal to coach in EuroLeague

Naismith Hall of Famer Rick Pitino is finalizing a to deal become head coach of EuroLeague power Panathinaikos of Greece, sources told ESPN on Thursday.

Pitino’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has been working with Panathinaikos ownership on a contract to coach the rest of the team’s season, sources said.

Pitino’s goal remains to return to the NBA as a head coach, and he has hopes that a return to pro basketball in Europe can be a stepping stone to achieving that.

The 66-year-old Pitino, fired a year ago amid an FBI probe at Louisville, will travel to Athens shortly after Christmas to take over a talented, but underachieving roster that includes several former NBA players, sources said.

The Athens team is expected to part ways with its coach Xavi Pascual to clear the way for Pitino, sources said.

Pitino recently told ESPN that he hoped for an opportunity to return to the NBA as a coach. He has been radioactive among NBA and major college basketball programs since his scandalous end at Louisville in October of 2017, but modern basketball history regards him as one of the great teachers, tacticians and motivators in basketball.

Panathinaikos has started 6-7 in the EuroLeague, leaving the team in 10th place. The team’s owner, Dimitrios Giannakopoulos, has a volcanic reputation in Europe. He was fined 150,000 euros in 2015 for barging into the referee’s room and threatening to kill the officials and their families after a playoff victory over CSKA Moscow.

Panathinaikos’ roster includes Nick Calathes, Georgios Papagiannis, Keith Langford, Deshaun Thomas, James Gist and the older brother of Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thanasis.

Pitino has had three runs in professional basketball including as a Boston Celtics president and coach, New York Knicks coach and as a Knicks assistant coach.

Pitino was fired at Louisville in the aftermath of the FBI probe into college basketball. Testimony and recordings of government-taped calls suggested that Pitino was unaware of the payments made to former Louisville recruit Brian Bowen’s family.

The FBI probe was the final in a series of scandals at Louisville — including an NCAA investigation into strippers and prostitutes used in recruiting visits with players at Louisville.

Before the scandal that ousted him at Louisville, Pitino authored a legendary college career. He won two national championships (1996 and 2013) and reached five Final Fours. He was 647-392 overall.

Pitino resigned with the Celtics early in his fourth season in 2001 with a 102-146 record. Pitino was considered to have been overwhelmed with dual roles, which had been pro sports’ biggest coaching/executive deal to date: 10 years, $70 million contract. He resigned with nearly $30 million left on the deal.

“I’m not looking for any of that (power/control) at this stage of my life,” Pitino told ESPN recently. “I want to develop teams and develop players and build a winner. I value analytics. I want to fit into an organization. At this stage, that’s all I’m interested in.”

Pitino had a shorter, but more successful run as coach of the Knicks in the late 1980s, winning an Atlantic Division title and reaching the playoffs twice (1988 and 1989) before leaving for Kentucky. Under Pitino, the Knicks won 52 regular-season games, and reached the conference semifinals in his final Knicks season.

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