Skeptics suggest that Pitino is merely a rebuilder, the handyman you hire to swing a place around but not the one to finish the job. And so the line on him goes like this: We know that he can get you out of the wilderness, but can he take you to the promised land?
He is already there himself. Where else could a man of his drive and needs be happier than in Lexington—where he is fawned over and feted like Caesar in the Roman Empire of college basketball?
But with this position comes constant scrutiny. Pitino's favorite teacher at St. Dominic's High, Sister Clarita Maloney, was recently sitting in the reading room of the Marian Convent in Scranton, Pa., where she supervises the care of 150 retired nuns. The 73-year-old sister had seen the often frantic and confused Wildcats lose 74-61 to North Carolina last spring in the Southeast Regional final of the NCAAs, and the performance raised a question in her mind.
"Why hasn't Rick won anything?" she asked, leaning forward. "You know what I mean, the NCAAs."
"Do you have an idea?" Sister Clarita was asked.
She nodded. "If what he tells them isn't working," she said, "he should tell them to just play. They're too tense. He should call them all over and say, 'Just have fun.... Just play!' "