As Kentucky recognized and remembered its 1993 Final Four team Saturday, one persona hung in the air in Rupp Arena like a ghost of basketball past.
Rick Pitino, who guided UK to that Final Four in that fourth year of an unexpected quick and vibrant rebuilding project, did not attend the reunion. Of course, a series of embarrassing problems as Louisville coach led to Pitino’s dismissal as coach in 2017.
Three of his former players who participated in a news conference prior to UK’s game against Utah, remembered Pitino fondly.
“Nothing negative to say about Coach,” said Dale Brown, a guard on the 1993 team. “I love that guy. He prepared me for life.”
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Saying he believed Pitino would work out the problems that ended his time as U of L coach, Brown added, “Great guy, man. He did great things for us. He’ll always have a special place in our hearts.”
Jared Prickett said he found the stories of strippers helping Pitino’s Louisville program in recruiting foreign to his experience at UK.
“I look at that situation ... and the way Coach communicated with us,” he said. “How he was strict with us. ... not allowing anything of that nature.”
Pitino was invited to attend the reunion. He declined through a tweet Saturday morning that suggested he appreciated the invitation and remembered that team fondly.
His tweet read: “Congrats 93 UK team! Proud of you guys and love the hell out of you. Thx Cal for reaching out. Much appreciated.”
Gimel Martinez, Prickett and Brown marveled at the passage of time. Brown said video of games that season seem blurry.
That 1992-93 season ended in a loss to Michigan’s Fab Five in the Final Four semifinals. Prickett recalled how Brown injured a shoulder while diving for a loose ball and how star forward Jamal Mashburn fouled out. A quarter century later, Prickett remained defiant about the outcome.
“We could have won the game,” he said. “We should have won the game.”