Pitino spurns Greek team, focused on NBA job

Naismith Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino has turned down an offer to return as president and coach of Panathinaikos, the franchise he led to a Greek League championship this season, Pitino told ESPN on Friday.

Pitino wants to return to a full-time pursuit of a job in the NBA — coaching, player personnel or an advisory role, he said.

He led Panathinaikos to a Greek Cup title, completing a 15-0 season. The team was 7-0 when Pitino arrived. Pitino led the team into postseason play in the EuroLeague playoffs too.

Pitino is one of his generation’s most celebrated coaches and innovators, winning NCAA titles at Kentucky and Louisville, reaching seven Final Fours and claiming conference titles in the Big East, SEC and ACC. His career has also been marred with scandals that led to his demise at Louisville, where the national title victory and two Final Four appearances were vacated and he was fired in 2018.

The 66-year-old Pitino was dismissed at Louisville in the aftermath of the FBI investigation into college basketball. Testimony and recordings of government-taped calls suggested that Pitino was unaware of the payments made to a former Louisville recruit’s family.

The FBI inquiry 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 the school.

In the NBA, Pitino resigned from the Boston Celtics early in his fourth season in 2001 with a 102-146 record. He was considered to have been overwhelmed with dual roles after signing pro sports’ biggest coaching/executive deal to date (10 years, $70 million). He resigned with nearly $30 million left on the deal.

“I’m not looking for any of that [control] at this stage of my life,” Pitino told ESPN in December. “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 New York Knicks in the late 1980s, winning an Atlantic Division title and reaching the playoffs twice (1988, 1989) before leaving for Kentucky. Under Pitino, the Knicks won 52 regular-season games and reached the conference semifinals in his final season with the team.

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