Shadowed By Scandals, Coach Rick Pitino Pens His 'Story'

Sep 8, 2018

Rick Pitino has an amazing record in college basketball. He coached three different teams — at Providence College, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville — to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. He's a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

But Rick Pitino is also the only NCAA men's basketball coach to have a national championship taken away. His Louisville Cardinals team was stripped of its 2013 national title because an investigation found recruits to the team had been offered sex with paid escorts. And coach Pitino was let go by Louisville last year when federal prosecutors revealed a player named Brian Bowen was recruited after an Adidas executive offered his family $100,000.

Rick Pitino's basketball sense and skills are perhaps unparalleled. So are some of the scandals that surround him, including a case in Louisville in which the coach admitted to sexual involvement with a woman who tried to blackmail him.

"People do have to fight, and fight hard to get through adversity," he says in an interview. "And I'm certainly one that's been through a lot in the last two or three years and I sort of have a Ph.D. on it right now. But I am very upbeat, very positive about the future."

He has written his version of some of those events in the book Pitino: My Story, with co-author Seth Kaufman.


Interview Highlights

On if he believes that he will ever coach again

I don't. And I'm basically trying to motivate myself to not only put closure on a career, but to get going with something else. I've said for years: Idleness is the devil's workshop. So I always tied up my day, every minute of the day from 6 a.m. to late at night, with basketball scouting, recruiting. And now I wake up at 6 o'clock and put on my gym shorts and there's no place to go.

On the revelation that an assistant coach had arranged escort services for Louisville recruits and players from 2010-2014

Pitino: Well, it was news to everyone. It was news to the other — the full-time assistant coaches. That being said, they were women that would look like college kids. They were snuck through a side door, mostly. They dressed like college girls. Security didn't see anything out of the ordinary.

Simon: To get to, I think, the crux of what the [NCAA] report upbraided you about: You met many of the parents or guardians of these young potential recruits who came to campus. You are the legendary coach Rick Pitino. Wasn't it part of your responsibility to protect them and know where they were every hour and minute?

Pitino: Well, I'll I go back to when I was an athlete. And the answer is yes and no. The answer is: Yes, I'm responsible for all the actions that go on, for all the people that work for me. But as an athlete, when I visited — I believe I visited 13 colleges out of high school — the coach would take the family out to dinner, and then you'd go out with the players. And you'd either go to a social party, you'd go to some event, and then the next day the coach would ask you what you did, did you have a good time. And no different than when you speak to your parents: "What did you do last night? "Went to a party, dad." "Did you have a good time?" "Yes."

So when the NCAA said to me: Did you notice any red flags? I said: I sat down with the family for two hours, asked the young man everything he did that night, and for a two-hour morning meeting, we discussed everything. So should I have known what went on at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning? I wish I could have, because something would have been done about it.

On if he understands the University of Louisville's decision to let him go

One hundred percent. But here's what you have to realize. I owned up not only to my family, which was hurt deeply by my indiscretion 14 years ago. But the other stuff — I have to tell you, as a leader, I'm completely innocent of any wrongdoing except the fact that I mentored people that did not do the right thing. So you alluded to earlier about the [2013 NCAA] championship coming down — the championship can never come down. That's part of history. You can take a banner down, but you can't take the championship away because there was no performance-enhancing drugs, there was no phony classes, there was no steroids being used, no gambling on the games.

On the obligations of college coaches to do more than coach basketball

Pitino: Ninety percent, if not more, of college coaches not only educate their players on the court — they build lifelong friendships. They mentor their young men. They help them get jobs. Unfortunately, the ones that get the most noise are people like myself involved in this scandal that comes across as if college basketball is corrupt. And it's really not. Four years ago I went on a tremendous rant about shoe companies getting involved in the recruiting business.

Simon: And even as you note in the book, the shoe companies have in other ways been pretty nice to you.

Pitino: They have — they have paid me millions of dollars. That being said, at the lowest levels, when you are a great player, and you're a freshman or a sophomore in high school, the agents are already targeting you, your family, your uncles, your cousins. If you then reach your potential as a possible professional basketball player, they're already in the door at a very young age.

On objectors to Pitino's motivational speaking engagements, given his recent history

Well, prior to the last two years, I probably have given close to 3,000 speeches on leadership. And in the last two years when the scandal broke, I could agree with those people who are critics and critical of me. But all I can do is tell the truth, and that's why I wrote this book. I probably am not going to give the amount of speeches I once gave, but that's OK. I have to overcome this adversity myself.

And I wish I had an unblemished record. But I did it the right way for a long period of time. And I hired over 30 coaches that have gone on to be successful head coaches. I mentored the first female coach to sit on a Division I bench, Bernadette Locke[-Mattox]. And they all did fabulous jobs. And the last few hires I made apparently were the wrong hires, even though I mentored them the same way I mentored everybody else. So I had to live with that. It is my destiny, so to speak, but I also have to continue on and try to be the best at what I can possibly be.

Peter Breslow and Ed McNulty produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Bobi Wine says the people who tortured him in an ambulance last month unscrewed an overhead light bulb to hide the beatings from the press. Bobi Wine is a politician and a pop star in Uganda, where he's been an outspoken critic of the regime in power there. After a contentious election to replace a parliamentarian, some protests turned violent. Bobi Wine's driver was killed. Bobi Wine says he was tortured by government forces. He was eventually charged with treason. Bobi Wine joins us in our studios. He's been permitted to come to the United States for medical treatment. Thanks so much for being with us.

BOBI WINE: Thank you very much for having me, Scott.

SIMON: You came here on a crutch. How are you feeling?

WINE: I'm alive. That's the best answer. I'm feeling pain in my back and my shoulders and various parts of my body. But my spirit is high. And I don't think about pain anymore.

SIMON: This will be painful, I'm sure, to get you to recount. But what happened? How were you beaten and tortured?

WINE: So after the campaigns, I retreated - I returned to my hotel room. There, we were attacked. The military - the section of that military is called Special Forces Command, which is the section of the military that guards the president. And it's led by the president's son. And before I knew it, they all descended on me, kicked me, beat me everywhere and did despicable things to me. They squeezed my testicles. They hit me with gun butts. When I screamed, they rapped my head again and hit me so hard in the back of the head until I was unconscious.

SIMON: Your attorney Robert Amsterdam said this week that you would urge the U.S. government to halt military funding to Uganda. Now, as you know, the U.S. supports the Ugandan army, so they can be deployed for international peacekeeping missions. Respecting what you've been through, doesn't the U.S. have powerful strategic reasons to support the Ugandan military?

WINE: All of us want a peaceful region. And indeed, the Ugandan army plays a role. And the U.S. government plays a role funding them. But it's important also for the U.S. to know, especially the U.S. taxpayer, that the money they give the Ugandan military is mainly used to torture Ugandans. I would note that the gun that was used to shoot my driver is an American gun.

SIMON: You're going to go back to Uganda?

WINE: Yes. I'm going to go back to Uganda. I don't have another home. Uganda is my home. That is where I was born. And that is where I will be buried.

SIMON: It's dangerous for you.

WINE: It's dangerous for me. But this is not just about me. There is this lady who had just had a baby by a C-section. She was beaten so hard that she - even by the time I left Uganda, she was still passing blood, you know? There's another guy called Atiku (ph). The doctors told us he will never be able to walk. There's another lady - I'm not sure if she's still alive. So many people - hundreds, if not thousands - go through this torture. So this cannot be about me. I'm only humbled and privileged to see that my brutalization attracted the eye of the world. And I'm trying to use every little time that I still have alive to raise that voice.

SIMON: Did you say every little time you still have alive?

WINE: Yes, every little time I still have alive.

SIMON: It sounds like you expect...

WINE: Yes.

SIMON: ...Something violent to happen to you.

WINE: Yes. I'm supposed to be a dead man. It was just a few seconds when I left that seat where I was sitting that my driver was shot. We are living in a country where life does not mean a thing. I'm not sure whether this is not the last time I'm coming here or to any other country. So I've decided to dedicate every last bit of my life to raise that voice.

SIMON: You could stay here and still do a lot of good for Uganda, couldn't you? You could play your music. You could draw the attention of the world to the plight of Uganda and live a life.

WINE: Yeah. I would live a life. But it would be a half-life. My children live in Uganda. They're Ugandans. And even when I could get them asylum, there are more than 14 million Ugandans. Eighty-five percent of them are younger than me. I am 36 years old. And we have a demographic of over 85 percent under the age of 35. So it cannot be about my life. I've said this before. And I'll say it again. We have to win back our freedom and dignity. Or we shall die trying.

SIMON: I want to hear some of your music, if that's OK with you.

WINE: That's all right, please.

SIMON: Your song "Freedom" - it was released last year. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM")

WINE: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We are fighting for freedom.

WINE: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We are fighting for freedom.

WINE: (Singing) ...Fighting for freedom.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM")

WINE: (Singing in foreign language).

Man - makes me sad.

SIMON: What's your political goal now? Can you wait for another election? Or do you think Uganda has to change before that?

WINE: For now, we're sensitizing people to get confidence even in the arms - in the times of terror. We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. Many of our contemporaries are being killed every now and then. So in Uganda, we leave every day the way it comes.

SIMON: Can you tell us what your doctors say?

WINE: I've not gotten my results yet.

SIMON: How do they feel about you going back?

WINE: Well, everybody's advising me not to go back. Everybody thinks it's dangerous to go back. But as one person, I cannot leave 14 million people in danger. If my life is a sacrifice that has to be taken for the redemption of our country, so be it.

SIMON: Bobi Wine, member of Parliament in Uganda, where he faces charges of treason. Thanks so much for being in our studio.

WINE: You're much welcome. Thank you for having me. And God bless you.

SOUNDBITE OF BOBI WINE SONG, "FREEDOM" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.