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Andy Katz, Correspondent | November 13, 2017

Pitino has happy homecoming as UM passes test at Providence

  Pitino's Gophers defeated Providence 86-74 Monday night.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Richard Pitino didn't really have a place to call home.

Moving around with his father, Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, led him to feel a bit like a nomad.

Until he realized his home was in Providence — the place where he figured out what he wanted to become, who he wanted to be.

So when the Big Ten and Big East scheduled Minnesota at Providence in the Gavitt Games, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

Rent a car. Get on campus. And experience the peace of being in a place he loved. That's what he had to do.

Life had been such a whirlwind since he left Providence in 2005. He bounced around like his dad, but as an assistant from Northeastern to Duquesne to work for him at Louisville and then for his father's basketball son Billy Donovan at Florida before going back to work for his father at Louisville.

He blitzed through Florida International for a season as a head coach before landing at Minnesota in 2013, taking over a program from one of his father's former assistants, Tubby Smith.

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The chaos of coaching never allowed him to come back to PC.

"The first thing I said was that I'm renting a car,'' Richard Pitino said after the Gophers' 86-74 victory over the Friars Monday night in a game that felt like March, but was literally only the second game of the season.

"I drove over to campus, I walked around," said Pitino. "I just had so many great memories here. I dreamed of coming to Providence College. And for me to come here and my guys to play so well — it's special for me.''

Born in 1982, Richard was just five when his father and Donovan led the Friars to an improbable 1987 Final Four appearance. 

"I applied to one school and it was Providence College,'' Pitino said. "And when they let me in, I was done. I didn't look at any other schools.''

His college friends wanted him to go out for drinks. He was under siege for tickets. But he loved every second.

Richard was a student assistant under former coach Tim Welsh. Ask that Richard Pitino, the senior in college, if 12 years later he would be a head coach on the opposite bench of a ranked Big Ten team, he said, "I never would have imagined it. I've been lucky.''

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The coaches from Mike Hart to Bob Walsh to Tom Herrion — all with Providence connections — helped him a long the way. He had his father, but he wanted to do this on his own, too. 

He said if he didn't get help, meet the coaches he encountered while at Providence, then he's not a head coach today. 

And he's clearly matured as one.

He won the NIT in his first year at Minnesota. He limped along in year two with six Big Ten wins and then bottomed out with only two in year three. The program completely switched a year ago, winning 24 games, 11 in the Big Ten, reaching the NCAA tournament and he was named the Big Ten coach of the year. 

"The one thing I'm good at is understanding the highs and lows of this profession," said Pitino. "I know not to get too high or too low. Two years ago, I knew we had to take a major step back to take a major step forward. It was tough. I had a new AD, new administration. We had a great year. I've got a great new AD and we weathered the storm by being patient.''

And he realized he didn't have all the answers. He wasn't some whiz kid getting a job at 31 in the Big Ten. 

"I've evolved on how to deal with it all,'' said Pitino. "When I was 30, I thought age was just a number. No, experience and age for anyone are huge. The more I do it, the more I realize that. You've got to make sure your family is good. My wife and three kids — those are the most important things ever for me. You've got to be there for your players. When you lose in today's world, you cannot hide. If you're not there for them, you have a problem.''

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And that's why he texted Nate Mason 30 minutes before the team departed for the Dunk Monday night. He said he and Mason had been "butting heads" over the last few days. So he told him to come to his room for a chat. It lasted 15 minutes. 

"I said, 'Nate, you and me have to be on the same page, joined at the hip,'" Pitino said. "I don't know if I would have done that a few years ago. More than anything you've got to find a way to connect with your players.''

Mason scored 17 points with six boards to go along with Jordan Murphy's 23 and 14 and double-figures from Reggie Lynch (12 points) and Amir Coffey (15 points, three 3s) in a balanced effort.

Pitino said the Gophers have an NCAA tournament resume win now. They were the more experienced, tougher, disciplined team.

That would be exactly what his father would want out of his clubs.

And now it's all on Richard. Rick is out of the game, fired by Louisville amid the FBI investigation. The Pitinos talked quite a bit, but left each other alone when it came to analyzing their programs during the season.

Beating Providence — in Providence — will be something they will definitely discuss soon.

"It's weird in the sense that he's not coaching,'' said Richard of his dad. "But I know he's at home with a smile on his face. So I feel like a good son right now.''

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