There is an old joke, though not a particularly funny one, in which someone asks “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” obviously seeking directions to the actual music venue. The answer is the punchline “Practice, practice, practice.” If someone asked Richard Pitino for directions to the Final Four, he would have two answers, “recruiting, recruiting, recruiting” or the alternative, “Go everywhere!.”
It takes a lot of work to change the perception of a basketball program, and even more to change a culture. While it may not have been based in reality, there was the perception that Tubby Smith was unwilling or unable to continue to meet the rigorous demands of a Big Ten Basketball coach. But who could blame him? Countless hours on the road in overheated gyms, trying to track down teenagers while avoiding their entourages. It isn’t a life I would choose to lead, especially if I already had a successful career and reached the pinnacle of success.
Fortunately for the Golden Gophers basketball program, and all of us, Richard Pitino has embraced the challenge, and work-life balance, to make a name for Minnesota basketball. And something strange is happening. It seems to be working.
Two years ago no kid in NY//NJ mentioned Minnesota. Now a lot of top kids are mentioning Richard Pitino’s team w/ Kimani Young & Dan McHale
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) June 3, 2013
First school out of the mouth of 4 star Texas HS PG Alex Robinson when asked about who is looking at him the hardest? Minnesota. — Ryan James (@RyanJamesMN) July 15, 2013
East coast recruits talking about Minnesota, the Gopher staff recruiting the hardest, the Gophers as an “it” program? This sort of things doesn’t happen by accident. It also might be too good to be true. We all remember that Tubby Smith landing Harrison Barnes and Cory Joseph? Oh wait. But in the few months he has been on the job, it is hard to argue that Richard Pitino hasn’t exceeded expectations.
In a hopefully successful attempt to visualize just how he has exceeded expectations, we tracked mentions of Coach Pitino on Twitter, and mapped his coast to coast journeys. Keep in mind that this is not exhaustive. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in New York City for more than just a slice of pizza.
And the summer is only half over.
Richard Pitino hasn’t landed a single big-name recruit, and hasn’t won a single game as the Gophers head coach. If for some reason he doesn’t succeed, it won’t be for lack of trying.