Ex-Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo first spotted future all-Big East big man Ramon Ramos at age 14 while coaching for the summer in a Puerto Rican league. A member of Ralph Miller's staff at Oregon State discovered future Pac-10 player of the year Jose Ortiz in a similar way. And Temple coach John Chaney landed future NBA power forward Ramon Rivas via a friend who coached in Puerto Rico.
Stories like those illustrate how Pitino could easily create a new recruiting pipeline if he takes the Puerto Rican national team job. He'll have unique access to Puerto Rican coaches and prospects and more visibility on the island than virtually any other college head coach.
"It's a definite edge when the youngsters feel he has some roots in Puerto Rico," Rivas said Tuesday. "There are some guys out there that don't come to the United States for high school and he'll have an opportunity to make a connection with them. It will be a great opportunity for him to reach out to those kids. It will be very easy for him to go over in the summer time and spot some of the local talent capable of playing major college basketball."
Reports out of Puerto Rico surfaced Monday that Pitino is close to finalizing an agreement to become the country's next basketball coach. A Louisville spokesman denied that Pitino has accepted the job, telling reporters that the coach "hasn't taken it" and "has not indicated his level of interest or a timetable."
Rivas believes taking a chance on Pitino would be more than just a splashy hire for Puerto Rico, which appeared to be on the rise in international basketball before crashing out of this summer's World Championships in the group stages. Pitino's college and NBA pedigree give him credibility and the fact that he has no prior affiliation with Puerto Rico allows him to bring a fresh perspective.
"We were very excited this year thinking that the national team would have probably its best talent ever, so it was pretty sad to see that they didn't go as far as they should have," Rivas said. "I'm really looking forward to Pitino coaching the national team and seeing how far he can take this team."
It's reasonable for Louisville fans to be concerned that Pitino may not be on the AAU summer circuit during the all-important July evaluation period, but Rivas believes the positives outweigh the drawbacks for the Cardinals.
"We have great talent in Puerto Rico," Rivas said. "I wouldn't be surprised if Louisville benefits from him being there."
- Puerto Rico