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Good Times, Bad Times: A Message From Rick Pitino's Nephew

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The following was written by Rick Pitino's nephew, Pat Vogt

It is in times of turmoil like these when people want to forget all of the good you have done, all of the people you have helped, all of the lives you have affected positively. It's in times of turmoil like these when people want to paint you as the villain and distances themselves from you in order to save their own skin.

Not for me. Not now, not ever.

With all of the negative press and attention UofL and Coach P have been getting these past few weeks, I would like to take the time to tell my story and explain why I support and love my uncle.

I remember being woken up by my neighbor early in the morning on a school day. I was confused, but too tired to think anything of it. She said quietly, "Your dad has been in a car accident and your mother has gone to the hospital to check on him." A moment of relief came over me as I knew my dad had been in car accidents before and came out perfectly fine.

My siblings and I stayed home from school that day, and as any 9-year-old would, I thought it was the greatest thing: a free day to watch TV and play video games. As the day went on and more people started showing up at the house with solemn looks on their faces, I became scared. That same neighbor who woke me up said that I had to stay with one of my friends for the next week because my mom would be in the hospital with my father. Still, at that time I was just excited that I would get to sleep at a friend's house for the week.

It wasn't until that evening where it hit me that something was really wrong. I found out my father had been on his way home from work when he was hit by taxi. He had suffered severe head injuries and was in a coma.

The following week in school I put on a happy face and pretended everything was okay in front of my teachers and my friends when in reality I was constantly on the verge of tears. All I wanted was to hug my mom and dad and go back to normal.

"Normal" is no longer a word used to describe my family and the tragedies we have suffered.  It wasn't until about 5 days after the accident when I was taken to the hospital in the city to see my mom. I remember seeing my mother from a distance and sprinting to her and giving her the biggest hug I have ever given. With tears coming from both of our eyes, I muttered out the words, "is dad going to die?" Those are words no 9-year-old should have to ask his mother. I remember the sadness in her face as she said cried and shook her head and said that he was not going to make it.  I can't even imagine how difficult it was for her to tell her youngest son that his father, role model, and hero would no longer be there.  He passed away a few days later from injuries suffered during the accident.

My family was heartbroken and lost. At that time I still did not fully grasp the concept of death and how I would carry this loss for the rest of my life. I was nine.

It was shortly after the funeral when my uncles William Minardi and Rick Pitino approached me and told me they would look out for me and my family. In the following months we spent multiple weekends at the Minardi's house in Bedford, and Uncle Bill and Uncle Rick became my second and third father. The only feeling of comfort I experienced during that entire period was when the whole family was together and I felt safe.

Billy Minardi took me and my siblings in as his own and did everything he could to make sure we were okay. I finally started to feel somewhat normal and then that tragic day happened. September 11th, 2001, Billy Minardi was tragically killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. I remember this day vividly, people showed up to the house with those same solemn faces and same concerned looks. I could not believe this was happening again, and I don't think anyone in our family could believe it either.

After my Uncle Bill's funeral, it became Rick's sole priority to make sure the children in our family grew up in loving and caring atmospheres. He took on the role as a father to his five own children along with six others who had lost their own fathers to tragic accidents.  Rick, who had no blood relation to any of us, picked up the broken pieces of my family and put them back together. Not only did he put them back together, he has held them together to this day and been the rock that we all lean and rely on. He took us all on family vacations, bringing everyone together. He made sure everyone was happy and doing well in school. He took interest in all of our hobbies and sports. He did everything a father would do for their children, but he did these things for 11 kids.

When I was a sophomore at Providence College, my best friend Kevin Dimeo was killed in a drunk driving accident.  His death threw me into a deep depression as I felt lost and helpless. I was unable to cope with his passing at the time, and even now, not a day goes by where I don't think about Kevin. Shortly after his death, I received a phone call from Rick who wanted to express his condolences. We spoke for about an hour or so, and in that conversation, he did more for me than I could have ever expected. He told me to cherish the memory of Kevin forever as the good friend he was to me, and to strive to do great things in his honor. Rick spoke to me of the losses he had suffered in his life time and the hard times he had endured as a result. It was then that I realized that I was not alone, and would always have someone to support and look out for me when tough times hit.

Rick Pitino is the greatest man I know, and I strive to be like him every day of my life. Not because of his fame or success as a basketball coach, but because of his dedication and love to his family. He saved the lives of six young children and two grieving widows by taking them in and becoming the patriarch of the family. He has an aura about him that makes you feel comfortable, loved and safe. His attitude and demeanor is contagious. He makes you want to work hard and strive to be great.

I am sure that my family would agree about the positive effects he has had on all of us, as would countless other individuals who Rick has coached, taught, and mentored over the years. Any time I would travel with my Uncle, he would be approached by someone who would thank him for the way he taught or coached them. Former players, students and campers all have great things to say about him.

There have been days in my life in which I reflect on everything and think about how difficult and strange my childhood was. I would not be the person I am today if it was not for my Uncle Rick, and I am eternally grateful for this. Honesty, compassion, and hard work are three of the things that he values most. If it was not for Rick instilling these virtues in me at such a young age, I would have been lost.

With all of the loss we have endured, if it was not for Rick, I honestly believe I would not be alive today.  He has showed me how to live and love at the hardest times in life. As a family, we have suffered numerous losses and tragedies, but we have also been blessed.  We have experienced some great times and amazing things, all because of Rick.