After winning the N.C.A.A. title and being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year, Louisville coach Rick Pitino doesn’t have much left to prove. One of the winningest college basketball coaches ever, Pitino has a 664-239 record (a .735 winning percentage), has appeared in the Final Four seven times (the only coach to do so with three different teams), and has won two N.C.A.A. national titles (the only coach to do so with two different teams). As he enters his 40th season of coaching, he’s eager to admit that he owes his unbelievable success to one simple fact: He knows how to spot talent. And talent doesn’t mean athleticism. Pitino has constructed N.B.A. stars like Jamal Mashburn and Antoine Walker from almost scratch, but his most impressive legacy may be the success of the men who have coached with him. That fraternity includes Billy Donovan, Mick Cronin, Marvin Menzies, Jim O’Brien, Herb Sendek, Tubby Smith, Jeff Van Gundy, and Frank Vogel.
Jeff Van Gundy was a graduate assistant, “a young J.V. coach at McQuaid Jesuit in Rochester,” when Pitino met and hired him. Despite some misgivings about his diminutive size and droopy bloodhound eyes, the coach liked his apparent hunger for knowledge. “We would always meet early in the morning and Jeff would be caught sleeping on my couch in my office…. He wanted to be the first one in, so he wouldn’t even go home.”
Pitino, who offers keys to success in his new book ‘The One Day Contract,’ told Men’s Journal exactly what he’s looking for when he gauges potential on and off the court.