For Pitino, the idea of hard work is not a tired sports cliché. As a prominent figure in athletics, he gets to mingle and talk shop with prominent people from around the world and he has discovered that it's not just coaches who see work ethic as the essential catalyst for achieving greatness. Mario Gabelli, the CEO of a $30-billion global investment firm in Rye, New York, taught him a lesson he's passed down to his assistants over the years:
"I was coaching Jamal Mashburn and his mom asked me to research all these mutual funds and all these hedge-fund guys to see which one he should go with. And when I went, Mario took me back into his back room in Rye, New York, and there were 200 people sitting around a little television trading bonds, trading equities. I said to Mario - and I never forgot this, 25 years later - I said, 'Mario, where do you get your talent from? Wharton School? Harvard Business School? University of Chicago?' And I'll never forget his answer. He said, 'I look for PhDs.' And I said, 'Well, that's a strange thing to look for with this type of job, PhDs,' and he said, 'I look for poor, hungry, and driven people. I don't give a shit where they go."
Pitino regularly sees players with Olympic sprinting and jumping abilities, players that are seven feet tall and players who can roll out of bed bleary-eyed then swish three-pointers. These gifts are only worthwhile if a player has the drive to sharpen his skills. "The term 'overachiever' sort of makes it look like the person has mediocre talent and he just works so hard that he achieves beyond what you would think," Pitino says. "'Overachiever' is sort of a - it's sort of an incorrect term. An overachiever is someone that's just willing to pay the price to get so much more out of his performance." The prime examples: Rebounders like Dennis Rodman and Kenneth Faried.
"Passion and hunger are the two ingredients that I look for in first making the judgment on - whether an athlete, an assistant coach, or a horse trainer or anybody I do business with," Pitino says.