John Clay: Cardinals, more than Pitino, were eager to play Pitino's son

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 19, 2012 

LOUISVILLE — The story line going into Wednesday night's Louisville-Florida International basketball game at the Yum Center was all about the father (Rick Pitino) facing the son (Richard Pitino).

Turned out, the game was all about the team (Louisville) facing its former assistant coach (Richard Pitino).

Take U of L point guard Peyton Siva, who recorded a career-high 12 assists and was named the MVP of the Billy Minardi Classic after Louisville's 79-55 win over Florida International.

"I was just glad to give Richard my career-high in threes," said Siva, who hit five of eight three-pointers. "Because the whole week he had been telling me how I can't shoot. So I just wanted to show him I can shoot a little bit."

Siva was smiling the whole time, of course. Turns out Richard Pitino, a former assistant under his father, now in his first head coaching job, in his first year with FIU, keeps in close contact with his former players at Louisville.

In fact, during the week leading up to the father-son game, Richard Pitino kept texting back and forth with the Louisville players.

"I talk to Richard on a daily basis," Siva said. "Throughout the whole year, even before we played them, I always text because of the relationship we've built."

This week, it was a relationship ripe for razzing.

"He was hassling me about shooting threes," Siva said. "He was watching film (of Louisville) and talked about how I shot one over the backboard against Memphis almost and I shot over the backboard against Duke. I said, 'Richard, all right, keep talking. I'm not going to shoot over the backboard this time.' But it was all in good fun."

It was fun for the fifth-ranked Cards, who nailed 12 of 32 three-pointers to run their record to 10-1 and the father's record to 1-0 against the son.

"It was certainly weird leading up to it," said the son after his team dropped to 3-5. "I didn't know how I would feel about it. But I tell you what, when the ball went up I forgot totally that he was down on the other side. I really did. ... I didn't have time to stare down my dad or wave at him or anything."

His father echoed that statement: "You know, I didn't even know he was down there during the game. I really didn't. I was just trying to get our team ready because we're going to be thrown into the fire and we've got to improve and we're running out of time."

If Rick had paid attention to Richard, he would have seen a coach whose bench style leans more toward Pitino pupil Billy Donovan. Richard Pitino was off the bench the entire game, much like his father, but he wasn't coaching every dribble, unlike his father.

"We've got pictures of him sitting on Billy's lap," Rick Pitino said. "The day he went into coaching, I said, 'You emulate Billy Donovan, every single thing he does. The way he coaches. His demeanor. Everything about Billy Donovan.' Billy Donovan and Peyton Siva are the two people in my lifetime that I not only coached special players, I coached two of the most special people."

The father thinks the son can be a special coach, too.

"It's tough talking about your son, but he's going to be a great young coach," Rick said. "He's starting from the bottom. He had to bring in eight new players, and that's not easy to do."

Beating Louisville isn't easy for any team. The Cards have been forcing turnovers at an abundant clip, about once every three times up the floor. FIU did much better than that Tuesday, committing just 14 turnovers, tying Duke for the lowest total against Louisville this season.

If that was a positive for Pitino's Panthers, just the experience was special.

"It was special because I think this was the one time ever where you look down at the other bench and you love those guys," Richard Pitino said. "I love all those kids. I love the coaches. I certainly love my dad. I love the staff. They're just such great people and I had such a great time with them. So I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to come in here and play."

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: Johnclay.bloginky.com.

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