Print and Go Back ESPN Classic [Print without images]

Monday, October 13, 2003
Updated: March 20, 3:38 PM ET
Comeback for the Ages

By Mike Puma
Special to

Signature Game
Feb. 15, 1994 -- Trailing LSU 68-37 with 15:34 remaining in Baton Rouge, Kentucky seem finished. Coach Rick Pitino implored his players to keep trying, telling them to concentrate on defending the three-point line.

"We just wanted to make it respectable and not lose our confidence," he said.

The Wildcats did more than make the game respectable. Incredibly, they defeated LSU, 99-95. Their comeback from 31 points down tied the NCAA record for the biggest second-half deficit overcome to win a game, first set by Duke against Tulane in 1950.

Besides defending the three-point shot, Kentucky started nailing its own long-range attempts. It made nine three-pointers in the final 10 minutes. Walter McCarty's three-pointer with 19 seconds left gave the Wildcats their first lead since the opening seconds.

"I've coached 200 NBA games and 16 years in college and I've never seen a comeback like that," Pitino said. "It was the most character I've ever seen in a basketball team and the most unbelievable thing I've seen."

Odds 'n' Ends

  • Pitino was a freshman at Massachusetts during Julius Erving's senior year.

  • Among Pitino's college teammates was Al Skinner, now the head coach at Boston College.

  • As a junior at UMass, Pitino averaged 4.3 points and 4.8 assists. He improved those numbers to 5.2 points and 6.5 assists as a senior.

  • While on his honeymoon in 1976, Pitino, a new Syracuse assistant, flew to Cincinnati to recruit Louis Orr.

  • At Boston University, Pitino was named New England Coach of the Year twice (1979 and 1983).

  • As a college coach, Pitino has preached the importance of three-point shooting. Succeeding on 40 percent from three-point range produces more points than shooting 59 percent on two-pointers.

  • Before becoming the Knicks head coach in 1987, Pitino was a candidate to fill the Phoenix Suns' job.

  • After his first season with New York, Pitino considered returning to Providence as a replacement to fired coach Gordie Chiesa.

  • Pitino's assistant coaches with the Knicks included Ralph Willard, Jim O'Brien and Stu Jackson, all of whom became head coaches.

  • For his first home game at Rupp Arena, Kentucky fans wore Rick Pitino masks distributed by the school.

  • Despite Kentucky still being on probation in 1991, Pitino led the Wildcats to a No. 9 ranking in the final Associated Press poll.

  • His 1996 national championship team had eight future NBA players.

  • Pitino's last five Kentucky teams went 66-4 at home.

  • His Kentucky teams went 17-1 in the Southeastern Conference tournament.

  • After leading Kentucky to the national championship in 1996, Pitino was courted by the New Jersey Nets, who offered him part-ownership and control of player personnel.

  • Kentucky's worst seed in the NCAA Tournament under Pitino was a No. 3 in 1994. Four times the Wildcats were a top seed.

  • Before leaving Kentucky to join the Celtics, Pitino recommended the school hire his former assistant, Georgia coach Tubby Smith, as his successor. Smith got the job.

  • Pitino's ownership stake in the Celtics was reportedly three percent.

  • With Boston, Pitino had a list of rules that included 36 violations for which a player could be fined.

  • When he resigned from the Celtics, Pitino had $27 million remaining on his contract.

  • He worked as a color commentator for CBS during the 2001 NCAA Tournament.

  • As a college head coach, Pitino has never had a losing season.

  • Pitino has investments in thoroughbred racing.

  • He is the author of two motivational books.

  • Pitino and his wife Joanne have five children: Michael, Christopher, Richard, Ryan and Jacqueline.

  • In 2004, Pitino's contract with Louisville was extended through 2010.

  • In 2005, Pitino's bid for a second NCAA title ended when Louisville, which had won 22 of 23 games, lost in the Final Four to top-ranked Illinois, 72-57.