“I almost went to Connecticut, it was Connecticut or UMass,” the Louisville coach told SNY.tv during an exclusive interview Tuesday at Hudson Catholic High School. “I remember when they were struggling to win the Yankee Conference. In all of sports, the greatest building job I’ve seen in my life was done at Connecticut. The Big East has taken them from a Yankee Conference school” to where they are now.
“With that being said, how can you want to leave? Why would you want to leave? My biggest mistake I made in my life is when I left Camelot [Kentucky]” to lead the Boston Celtics in 1997. “They’re leaving Camelot. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of.”
Pitino took issue with Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who confirmed Monday that UConn is interested in moving to the ACC and said everything now hinges upon whether the ACC decides to expand to 16 teams. Malloy said that if Notre Dame isn’t interested, the ACC must decide whether there is any compelling reason to expand again.
Barring that move, he said, “you fall back to the Big East.”
“That, in itself, is a reason why that man should be only allowed to run for [only] two terms,” Pitino cracked.
If UConn were to leap to the ACC, it would further increase the density of NCAA basketball champions in the league.
Since 2001, UConn (2004, ’11), Duke (’01, ’10) and North Carolina (’05 and ’09) have each won two NCAA titles, while Maryland (2002) and Syracuse (2003) have captured one apiece.
“Did you ever think that it ever crossed the mind of John Wooden to go into the Atlantic Coast Conference because they were bigger than the Pac-10 when he was winning 11 championships? Pitino asked. “Do you ever think it crossed his mind? No, when you’re great winner, those things don’t cross your mind.
“The only thing that crosses your mind is the ability to win a championship and carry on the great tradition you’ve built. And then you’re going to tell me that Connecticut, which can win a BCS in football, is going to take the opportunity to try and win against Miami and those other people?”
Pitino pointed to the fate of Boston College, which left the BIg East in 2005, along with Miami and Virginia Tech.
“Boston College, since they’ve joined [the ACC], has won one championship in 2005 in soccer,” Pitino said. “Is that what all these people are willing [to do]? John Wooden would never do it, I can tell you that.”
While Pitino believes UConn has no business leaving the Big East, he thinks it’s more acceptable for Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which are leaving but may not be permitted to go until 2014.
“They’re either going to pay more money than the $5 million [exit fee] or they’re staying [until 2014],” Pitino said. “That I can tell you.”
He added: “”It was a smart move for [Pittsburgh and Syracuse], in their minds. Syracuse and Pittsburgh’s Presidents want something different. They’re not taking into consideration all the alumni that Syracuse has in the area. Pitt can go if they want, but it makes no sense with Connecticut because of the unbelievable success that Connecticut has had.
“To me, with Connecticut, I think it’s just a ridiculous move.”