The ultimate act of redemption for coach Pitino will be to avoid a Greek tragedy

28/Jun/21 23:01 June 29, 2021

Aris Barkas

28/Jun/21 23:01

Rick Pitino has returned to Greece with only one motivation: To compete in the Olympics. But this would be a herculean feat.

By Aris Barkas/

When Rick Pitino was announced as the new coach of the Greek national team back in November 2019, nobody expected such a roller coaster ride. Almost two years later, Pitino will have the chance to finally coach the Greek national team and will fight against all odds for his ultimate dream, to qualify for the Olympics in one of the four Olympic Qualifying tournaments, the one held in Victoria, Canada.

That was never in the cards for him back in December of 2018, when he first decided, while being banned by the NCAA, to travel to Greece and get the head coaching job of Panathinaikos. However, since then, Pitino has won two Greek championship titles with Panathinaikos in 2019, and in 2020. He has also experienced the turmoil of Olympiacos leaving the court at halftime in the Greek Cup semifinal in protest for the referees and he has been also the center of a controversy when he was announced as the head coach of Panathinaikos in 2019 while also being already the national team coach.

In just two seasons, he has seen pretty much all there is to see about the oddities of Greek basketball.

But then COVID happened and things got even weirder.

The Panathinaikos – Olympiacos saga and the Greek federation elections

When Pitino was first hired as the coach of the Greek national team, the move was considered as a checkmate by longtime Greek federation president and former FIBA Europe president George Vasilakopoulos who was gearing up for the upcoming 2020 federation elections.

Vasilakopoulos, who has had a dominant part in the Greek basketball scene since the 80s and played a huge role in the rise of Greek basketball, was accused by his critics that at least during the last decade he was using the Greek national team as a vehicle for his own promotion while making coaches expendables. Pitino coaching the Greek national team for free, just for the chance to play in the Olympics, was a big win for Vasilakopoulos.

However, the move backfired for Vasilakopoulos when Pitino became the coach of Panathinaikos again just weeks after being named the national team coach. Vasilakopoulos’ side insisted that Pitino has reassured him that he would not take the Panathinaikos job if it was offered to him again due to the problems that the rivalry with Olympiacos may create, but the exact opposite happened.

According to sources close to the situation, since then Vasilakopoulos and Pitino are not in speaking terms and have not communicated directly. Vasilakopoulos went on his way focusing on the elections, which due to COVID have been delayed and may be held in September 2021. Meanwhile, a new sports law in Greece includes among other things an age limit for federation presidents, preventing 82-years old Vasilakopoulos to run again in the elections. Still, he remains a key person in the whole process after being appointed by a court of law as interim president of the federation until the elections.

Yes, it’s too Greek for anyone to fully understand.

The point is that Vasilakopulos remains the president, calling the shots for the national team and leaving Pitino to do his best with limited resources. Other presidential candidates had implied that if they got elected before this summer, then they would have replaced Pitino.

Meanwhile, Pitino arrived in Greece alone one month ago, without any American assistant, contrary to the initial plan, and, as it turned out, without being able to count on a lot of key players.