STARLIGHT, Ind. - Rick Pitino knows what it’s like to change your mind after taking a new head coaching job. The Louisville coach readily admits he had second thoughts in the days after leaving the comfort of Kentucky for an ill-fated run with the Boston Celtics a decade ago.
Still, Pitino said Wednesday that the outcry following former player and protege Billy Donovan’s decision to renege on a contract with the Orlando Magic to return to two-time defending national champion Gators was “mind-boggling.”
The Magic released Donovan from the contract on Wednesday night.
Donovan, who played for Pitino at Providence and later was an assistant under him at Kentucky, is in the process of getting out of a five-year, $27.5 million contract he signed with the Magic last Friday.
“He probably made a decision with his head and then followed his heart,” Pitino said at a Louisville function. “It’s a totally unfortunate situation. I know Billy. I know he feels bad about it.”
Pitino said he talked to Donovan before he agreed to the contract with the Magic, but didn’t advise him either way.
“I told him what the NBA was all about, the good and the bad just like there is college basketball and it was up to him to make a decision,” Pitino said.
Pitino knows both sides of the coin. He led Providence to the Final Four in 1987 before moving on to the New York Knicks. He left the Big Apple for Kentucky, only to return to the NBA with the Celtics in 1997, a move he’s questioned in hindsight.
“It’s very difficult because you want to try something different and the NBA is very alluring,” Pitino said. “It’s alluring economically. It’s alluring because it’s on TV, the playoffs are on TV, it’s very exciting. You think you want to try it. I wanted to try it. I knew I wanted to try it ... because I knew what it was all about.”
Pitino said he told Donovan not to interview with the Magic unless he though he was capable of taking the job.
“Whether it was a mistake or a blessing, when he went back down to Gainesville for that press conference, that’s when it hit home,” Pitino said. “It’s something he regrets, but it’s something he has to live with. In the end, he knew where he wanted to be.”
Ultimately, Pitino said any provision in Donovan’s settlement with the Magic that would prevent Donovan from taking a job in the NBA in the near future could be a good thing for the Gators.
“He was going to get killed recruiting-wise because everybody would say ’Oh, he’s going pro next year,”’ Pitino said. “Now he’s going to be able to rebuild that thing the right way because he can’t go pro. So they did him a favor by doing that.”
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