Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pitino Knows Plenty About Siena

As Siena was preparing for its first-round NCAA Tournament game against Ohio State, it discovered that the Buckeyes knew so much about the Saints that players even knew the high school nickname of Siena's head coach Fran McCaffery.

And, it has been more than 30 years since McCaffery was known as "White Magic," while a clever point guard in his high school days.

You can be sure that Louisville, and particularly its head coach Rick Pitino, will also know plenty about Siena as the teams prepared for Sunday's meeting in the second-round.

Pitino won't have to search far for some perspective about Siena. His own memory banks will suffice.

Pitino began his career as a head coach on the mid-major level, coaching five seasons at Boston University (1978-79 through 1982-83) before moving up in the college ranks with two seasons at Providence (1985-86, 1986-87). Between those two stops, he was an assistant coach with the NBA New York Knicks.

Subsequently, Pitino has also coached in the college ranks at Kentucky. He is the only coach in history to bring three college programs to the NCAA's Final Four, doing so with Providence, Kentucky and Louisville.

In Pitino's early days as a college coach his teams played Siena four times. Pitinos teams came out on top all four times.

In the 1978-79 season Boston U. nipped Siena, 72-66; In 1979-80, BU was a 98-89 winner; and, in 1982-83 the Terriers topped Siena, 78-65.

Siena met Providence once in Pitino's two seasons, a 75-64 Providence victory in the 1986-87 season. The Friars ultimately advanced to the Final Four that season, led there by a scrappy point guard named Billy Donovan, who, in recent years, has taken the University of Florida to a pair of national championships.

The starters for the 1986-87 Siena team included Matt Brady (now the head coach at James Madison University, after a successful four-year stay at Marist), Dwight Walton, Rick Williams, Steve McCoy and Jeff Robinson.

That crew gave the Pitino-coached Providence squad a solid challenge in a Dec. 11, 1986 game played at the Providence Civic Center. Siena was within seven, 38-31, at halftime, and still within eight with about three minutes remaining.

And, it gave the 5,127 in attendance for that game a memorable and humorous moment.

With Siena trying to rally from an eight-point deficit late in the game, coach Mike Deane had his team using a full-court pressure defense.

At one point, 7-foot-0 reserve center Eric Fleury was in the game, at the point of the press.

Fleury was waving his long arms and trying to district Providence's attempt to in-bound the ball on a particular possession.

Fleury got his hands on a pass, gained possession and, then, immediately went up and made a lay-up basket.

Problem was that Fleury put the ball in the Providence basket, recording an easy two points for the Friars.

It gave Providence a 10-point lead, and Siena didn't really threaten afterwards.

Afterwards, Siena coach Mike Deane was delicately approached about Fleury's play.

To which Deane displayed his best sense of humor.

"The guy is 7-feet tall," said Deane, a big smile on his face. "When you're that tall, and that close to the basket ... you don't lay it in. You dunk it."

Pitino, afterwards, had plenty of respectful things to say about a tough Siena opponent that day.

Twenty-two year later, Pitino probably still has a healthy respect for Siena's program, and likely has spent the two days leading up to today's NCAA match-up instilling that sentiment in his Lousville players.

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