It was the day I missed curfew at South Kent Prep and little did I know that was when I’d meet the wrath of coach Rick Pitino. We were playing Winchendon Prep in a basketball game that meant a lot because they were in our conference. The gym was packed, stakes were high and every big time school along with many others were there to look along at the prospects in the gym. I was already verbally committed to University of Louisville and this is where it begins.
I called Coach P the day before the game and told him I was coming off the bench. His response, now that I know him; all sounded as if he knew I did something wrong but he still asked what happened. I told him “my coach felt it was better for the team if I came off the bench” (lol). The next day after the game our coach told him the true story of how I missed curfew. He looked at Coach Willard and wanted to kill him. Coach Willard then looked at me and wanted to strangle me on top of my dad wanting to rip my head off. lol
I first touched down in Louisville mid spring 2010 but I came in hurt. My knee was torn and I weighed in around 142lbs my freshman year during the summer. I couldn’t participate in any open gyms the way I wanted. Although when I did participate I did robust. I ran into Coach P one morning on the elliptical feeling optimistic about my week at open gym and he looked at me as if he was a crestfallen father. He then said “you will not ever put on a Louisville game uniform if you are not 165lbs by the start of pre-season”. I could not believe what I heard. I asked him if he was serious because he couldn’t have been. That is 18lbs heavier and pre-season was a 50 days away! From that day forward, I stuffed myself with McDoubles from McDonalds and Sonic burgers. Fifty days later in second week of September I was 166lbs Coach P could not believe it himself. He said he was playing around when he told me that but I told him “he plays too much” in my “New Yawk” accent.
- Coach P threatened to give me a Lobotomy on plenty of occasions and referenced “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” a lot during my freshman year.
I spent plenty of time with Coach P especially during the holidays because I never could never afford to go back home. I also decided to stay back so I could workout. Thus, being around Coach always made me feel welcoming and always made me feel as if I had someone to call or talk to when things weren’t exactly going my way.
Coach called me in his office one day and told me straight to my face that he thinks I’d be better transferring to a smaller school. I was noticeably unhappy all month in practice, hanging my head, not understanding schemes and he basically told me something I was thinking about anyway. There’s nothing worst than reality especially when its direct. He told me he loved me and how great of a kid I am but if I wanted to play basketball I should look else where. I agreed, went home and cried because I couldn’t believe how I lead myself to believe I wasn’t good enough. I called him sometime after the season and said I’m staying and he will have to deal with me. I then asked him in his office if I do everything right will I get a fair shot on the court and the rest is history. Coach P was a man of his word!
- Coach P called on of my teammates Michael Jackson because a he kept talking quietly and did not call out a screen and I think Peyton got hit with one. He said “God Bless his soul but the King of Pop dead, don’t be Michael Jackson”.
- Coach P threatened to put pom-poms and pink purses in our lockers because we were playing soft.
- The best day was when we won the Big East title my sophomore year in 2012. He told us curfew was at 11. It was 9:30pm. Then he yelled to the top of his lungs “11AM!!!!”
- When I first got a MoHawk, I don’t think Coach appreciated that haircut too much.
- I tried wearing two different mismatch shoes in practice my sophomore year and coach directed me to the treadmill.
- Coach thought Dark Slime was Lebron James because he turned the ball over and didn’t run back on defense. Coach reminded him that he was Slime and not Lebron. He was directed to the treadmill.
Coach P is so competitive its inspiring. He once yelled at me mid game to the top of his lungs during the time I was an All American; “I bench All Americans”. I may have missed a rotation that was not even my fault but he still blamed me. He said he’d win this game with “Dark Slime (Walk On and one of my best friends) and Logan (Walk on)” if he had to. I started smirking just a little bit and he kept looking at me through the corner of his eye. He put me back in a minute later. I think he just wanted to pick a fight with me. lol
One play, there was a scuffle for the ball between our player and another player from the opposing team. It ended up being 2 fouls called, a delay of game, a double technical foul and they were now taking the ball out of bounds. It all happened too fast; maybe during when Coach P sipped his Coconut Water so he may have missed the action. With everything that happening so fast, the delay of game and the scuffle; coach asked an assistant “What happened?”. The assistant had the audacity to respond “well Coach the other team is taking the ball out of bounds”. I never seen Coach P so sarcastic in my life. He said “well you know if I wanted that answer I would’ve just asked the damn floor”. Everyone on the bench started crying.
- It was amazing to sit on the bench and watch Coach communicate with referees because he knew ALL of them by name!
One of the most congenial moments with Coach P is when we went out to eat and someone asked for a picture. Coach in the middle of his meal got up and took a picture with the fan. The fan couldn’t believe it and asked him why did he just do that; you could’ve waited until you finished your meal. Coach P said “It takes just as long to be genuine and amiable just as long as it takes to be rude or an asshole”. Ill never forget that, thus which is why I am the way I am today when it comes to fans or supporters.
Coach told a player in practice that if he kept out-letting (passing the ball to a teammate after gaining the rebound or possession) the ball to the other team in practice, he was afraid a bird might fly by and the bird would get hit. Then went on and told his baby granddaughter (who was maybe a year old) to speak, because the player was gonna pass her the ball. lol. We had a water break after that.
- I had a crook in my neck and Coach got mad at me because I didn’t turn around on defense fast enough. He asked me “whats wrong?”. I told him “I woke up on the wrong side of the bed”. He threatened to send me to an asylum.
- During the game at Syracuse he asked me “was that my man”, and he knew the answer to that question because it was me and I gave up a three. Then asked was “I still in bed”. I said “no” and gave him an “are you crazy” look. He said well then “Wake the F*** Up”! and shoved me back to the court.
- Coach P and I had fist pumped each other and gave each other “daps” (handshakes) before every game. I thought it was so cool, I hoped he felt the same. lol
- He called Mike Marra and Chris Smith “Michelle” and “Christina” for playing soft. lol
- Coach got mad at Elisha for rotating slow when we were watching film. He said I nicknamed you “Bullet” not “Slow Shit”. Bullet was such a nice and graceful person but that’s what made it funnier. lol
During the Elite 8 game against Florida, Peyton fouled out and Coach P moved me to point guard. He told me I was the best player on the floor and to stay in attack mode and win the game. I could not believe how much faith he put in me because this was a position he moved me from since the beginning of the season. After we won he was so happy. I seen him in the lobby that evening and it was all laughs and smiles. He said deep down he thought he was gonna have a heart attack.
I bunny eared a Hall of Fame coach on National TV. Still to this day I have no clue why I did that. I looked at Coach P as a coach and as family. I felt besides my blood relatives, Coach P really knows me as well as anyone. I also seen him as a friend thus our relationship. I never thought how it would make me look to GMs or other teams because I never thought I’d be in the NBA. I actually got asked if I would bunny ear a coach in my NBA draft interview.
I can go on for days but I will end with this. Besides my dad, any advice I needed or any questions I had he always was honest and upfront. He scolded and reprimanded me many times but it was all deserving. He treated the walk ons the same way he treated the McDonald All-Americans. He treated the managers the same way he treated the coaches. Coach P was always the first person in the gym. You can either find him in his office or the elliptical. These memories will live forever. There are also more I’d love to share but I just did not have time to. If there are any moments you’d like to know more about or some situations that I may not have touched on, I’d love to share it with the best of my ability.