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What Rick Pitino Knew, And When He Knew It

The former U of L coach’s claims of innocence ring false

That header got your attention, right?

Good.

Truth is I have no copy of a check made out to Brian Bowen’s dad with Rick Pitino’s verified fingerprints on it, nor a tape of the former U of L coach cutting a deal with an Adidas shoe rep over the phone.

Stick with me anyway. Because it doesn’t matter what Rick Pitino actually knew or not, it’s what he chose not to do.

As has become the nature of our national dialog these days, there are two oppositional positions about the coach for whom the starmaker machinery is cranked to 11 this week to promote his latest book.

There is a faction who believe that Pitino knew nothing about the strippers in the dorm, knew nothing about the promise of money to Bowen’s father, was the innocent victim of an extortion attempt after an extramarital affair, and was shafted by the university when he was dismissed as coach.

Then there are those who believe it doesn’t really matter what Pitino actually knew, that the Bowen scandal was merely a called third strike, that the coach should have been terminated when he admitted having sex with a woman not his wife, on a banquette in a restaurant no less.

Count me firmly in the second grouping.

As a Louisville Cardinal basketball fan for six and a half decades, I simply need to vent one last time and move on. Actually, I would have kept my mouth shut but for two reasons.

The first is the legion of respected national college hoops observers, many reasonably intelligent people, who have swallowed the Kool Aid, and succumbed to Pitino’s charm and claims of absolute innocence. The second is the position I’ve taken since the Bowen mess broke has finally been postulated by a national scribe of stature, Gary Parrish of cbssports.com.

Finally a respected observer of college basketball with a national audience is making sense.

Parrish, like me, does not think Pitino knew about the strippers and sex in Minardi Hall. I believe that many obviously did know -- staff, dorm counselors, other students, even assistant coaches -- but the imperious character of the coach prevented anybody from feeling comfortable enough to tell him what was going on. Though that is neither here nor there.

Parrish and I are of one mind regarding the Bowen situation, which is it doesn’t matter if Pitino actually knew of the illicit payments. Here’s what Parrish wrote:

But the Brian Bowen situation is a different deal.

Rick Pitino is a brilliant man.

He’s not naive. He knows how recruiting works. So he must understand that when you get a text message in May 2017, basically out of nowhere, from a shady character like Christian Dawkins asking if you’d be interested in a five-star prospect, it’s unreasonable to not assume something is up -- especially when the five-star prospect with whom you have no real relationship is visiting you on his own dime in a matter of days and committing to you in less than a month. That’s a red flag if there’s ever been a red flag.

Here’s how Pitino initially described Bowen’s recruitment: ”We got lucky on this one. I had an AAU director call me and ask me if I’d be interested in a great player. I saw him against another great player from Indiana. I said, ‘Yeah, I’d be really interested.’ They had to come in unofficially, pay for their hotel, pay for their meals. We spent zero dollars recruiting a five-star athlete who I loved when I saw him play. In my 40 years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve been.”

Nobody is that lucky in high-stakes recruiting. In fact, the only other time I can remember a coach explaining how he got a call out of nowhere from somebody asking if he’d be interested in a five-star prospect, it was Tim Floyd discussing signing of O.J. Mayo. And remember how that turned out? It’s like that old saying goes: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Brian Bowen was too good to be true.

Rick Pitino, at the very least deep down, must’ve known that. And I write this as somebody who respects and likes Pitino very much. I’m not here to pile on. I just think it would be nearly impossible, even if you’re not directly involved, to get that call from Christian Dawkins, and that commitment out of nowhere, without thinking a shoe company or agent or assistant or somebody had done a deal in violation of NCAA rules.

Parrish termed Pitino’s lack of attention, “willfull blindness.”

Call it what you want. My point is that Parrish finally gave a national voice to what I’ve offered about the situation, since it first broke last autumn.

I call it lack of due diligence. Which, after the Karen Sypher embarrassment and just having been smacked around by the NCAA dorm stuff equates to malfeasance.

When Pitino launched his PR attack this week, I couldn’t help but post my feelings on Facebook.

”Dear Rick Pitino. Go away. Please. Thank you.”

-- Seedy K

You can read Gary Parrish’s article in its entirety here.

My Glorious Editor Mike Rutherford, having observed Pitino’s duplicity through the years, weighed in with skepticism on whether Pitino really means it when he says he’ll never coach again. You can read that article here.