Former colleagues McCall, Pitino exchange praise

  • UMass head coach Matt McCall gestures during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Minnesota, Friday. AP Photo

For The Recorder
Friday, November 24, 2017

NEW YORK — Shortly after they were done competing, UMass coach Matt McCall and Minnesota coach Richard Pitino jumped at the opportunity to praise each other, with Hall of Famer, Rick Pitino, Richard’s father and a UMass alum not far away.

McCall and Richard Pitino, who both worked for Billy Donovan at Florida, talk often. McCall said program building is a natural conversation topic between them.

“What’s he’s done has been terrific. Two years ago, he had some guys sitting out and went through an enormous amount as a program and probably really grew,” said McCall, whose Minutemen fell to the Gophers, 69-51. “They’re a top 10 team. He disagrees with me. I told them I think they’re a Final Four team. He’s been a part of Final Fours, I’ve been a part of Final Fours. They have the pieces. They’re a talented team, and he’s a terrific coach.”

McCall said style-wise, there were things about what Minnesota does that he hopes his teams will eventually replicate, but not exactly.

“I think we’d like to press a little more in the Atlantic 10. In the Big Ten it’s a little more challenging. We’d like to press a little more, especially with the pieces we’ve added. We have a lot of speed coming in next year in Tre Wood and Keon Clergot. We have a lot of shooting with Curtis Cobb and Kieran Hayward,” McCall said. “We’d like to press a little bit more and get up and down a little bit more.”

Richard Pitino thought his friend would have UMass rolling before long.

“He got it done at Chattanooga. Right now they’re in the culture building stage,” Richard Pitino said. “They’re enthusiastic. They execute. They’re doing all the things we all try to do when we’re at square one. He has transfers sitting out. They’ll turn the corner there soon.”

Rick Pitino, who was fired by Louisville before the season in the midst of that program’s NCAA and legal scandal, sat in the stands behind the Gopher bench. McCall made it a point to shake his hand after the game.

McCall never worked with Pitino directly, but McCall’s mentor, Billy Donovan, played for Pitino at Providence and was an assistant coach under him at Kenutcky, making McCall the elder Pitino’s de facto coaching grandson.

“The second the game was over. I made sure I went over and shook his hand,” said McCall, who spoke to Rick Pitino shortly after he was hired at UMass. “He was great to me when I got the job. I called him and went up to his golf event in Saratoga. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Coach Pitino because there wouldn’t be any Billy Donovan. I owe him a lot. He’s one of the best coaches to ever coach this game.”

After the postgame press conferences, McCall and both Pitinos gathered in a basement hallway to catch up.

BYU UP NEXT — UMass won’t have long to wallow in its postgame frustration, as they’ll play BYU, Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The Cougars (3-2) opened the season with wins over Mississippi Valley State and Princeton but have dropped two of their last three, sandwiching a win over Niagara between losses to UT-Arlington and Alabama.

Sophomore forward Yoeli Childs had 21 points against the Crimson Tide, Friday and is averaging 15.0 points per game. Junior guard Elijah Bryant, an Elon transfer leads BYU in scoring at 18.2 points per game.

MISCELLAENOUS — Brooklyn native Unique McLean had seven points three rebounds and three steals in the homecoming game for him. Former Minutemen Chaz Williams and Micah Brand were both in attendance.