Day 6: Louisville | Traveling Violations
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – He spent 13 seasons in the NBA before serving as an NBA analyst for three networks. He even got into acting, including a stint as Coach Bill Fuller on NBC's Saturday morning basketball show, "Hang Time."
Yet after all of the money and the fame, Reggie Theus realized he wanted to coach college basketball. He even spent the 2002-03 season as a volunteer assistant at Division II Cal State Los Angeles.
Getting a crack at a Division I job wasn't easy. The perception of former NBA players, let alone ones who have been Hollywood actors, is that while they may want to coach, they don't want the hard work that comes with the job.
"The common theme was ex-players are not willing to do it the right way and pay their dues," Theus says. "That is something that stops you from getting a job."
Enter Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who looked past the pretty face, didn't worry that financial security would curb Theus' work ethic and saw firsthand the hunger he had. In the summer of 2003, Pitino hired Theus as an assistant.
Just more than a year later, Theus has proven himself under one of the most demanding men in basketball. He is the point person for an exceptional U of L recruiting class chock full of West Coast talent.
"People didn't envision Reggie as a guy who gets up at 6 a.m. and is in the office until 11 p.m.," Pitino says. "What surprised me was he was so hungry. He has great NBA experience as both a player and a broadcaster, yet at the same time he's very hungry to make it at the college level."
Theus, a Los Angeles native who played at UNLV, says his mid-life switch to coaching should answer any questions about his motives. He didn't do this for the money, out of boredom, or because he needed the ego boost. He already had all of that.
"I had the opportunity to do a lot of different things after [my playing days]," he says. "When I got back out on the floor [to coach] I realized this is who I am and this is what I want to do."
Theus even accepted Pitino's 6:30 a.m. report-to-work time, the late nights, the traveling, the home visits and all of the rest.
"This is the best decision I have ever made," he says.
Theus says he wants to be at Louisville when the Cardinals win a national championship. Pitino is more realistic – he believes Theus is head-coaching material. "He won't be with us long," Pitino says. "If a West Coast school opens, he's a natural, an absolute natural. He's a great teacher, a great worker and a great recruiter."
- The drive from Bloomington to Louisville is always one of the most scenic on the tour. Highway 37 through Southern Indiana cuts across rolling farms, parts of the Hoosier National Forest and (almost) French Lick, Ind.
Wheelman Bret Bearup, noticing another creamed deer carcass, thought the road should be renamed "Roadkill Alley."
- All we know is that at the end of the Indiana portion of the drive was something called Floyd's Knob, which we were determined to avoid.
- We actually spent Sunday night in Lexington, Ky., because Bearup played basketball for the University of Kentucky and still has half a city full of cronies. Dinner Sunday featured ex-Cat Jim Masters and Mike Austin, who is one of the greatest people we've ever met from Chicago. He picked up the tab.
And this was no small tab. Bearup had a bone-in filet and some fancy wine, then polished off a slice of banana cream pie.
- My main man in Lexington is none other than Thomas Gaines, nut-case Wildcat fan, occasional owner of moonshine and, by trade, horseman.
Gaines always is a bit excitable, but Sunday was an especially big day for the operation he is involved with. At the November Breeding Stock Sale at the local Keeneland track, Gaines-Gentry Thoroughbreds shelled out $5 million for I'll Get Along, who happens to be Smarty Jones' mother.
Gaines was happier than when UK beat U of L in 2001. Well, maybe.
- I asked Pitino, who has been involved in horse racing, if he wanted to buy a horse for $5 million.
"No, but I wouldn't mind selling one," Pitino said. "Five million? Wow."
That Pitino was blown away will make Gaines happy for months.
- Actually, Pitino isn't buying too many horses anymore.
"My salary is a little different now that I am not with the Boston Celtics," he laughed. "It's not that I'm struggling here at Louisville or the University doesn't pay me well. But to be in the horse business, the Sport of Kings, it's a little easier when you're with the Celtics."
- Pitino has done wonders for U of L on a number of fronts. For the second consecutive year, Money Magazine ranked the Cardinals as the highest-grossing basketball program in the country.
"We generate a lot of revenue because we have 19,500 season ticket holders," Pitino says. "That won't buy you Smarty's mom, but…."
- The ever excellent Kenny Klein, Louisville's media relations director, pointed out two other facts about the Cardinal athletic department's overall success. First, U of L and Texas are the only schools whose football, men's basketball and women's volleyball teams currently are ranked in the AP polls.
Second, more U of L vanity plates have been sold in the Commonwealth of Kentucky than UK vanity plates.
"Well, you just blew it," Pitino said. "Every UK fan will go out and buy 10 each now."
Valued Reader Email
Your correspondence, with my response in italics.
Dan – Try the Starwood hotels Westin and Sheraton. Best beds in the business (especially at the Westin chain). And usually when you make a reservation through their web site, it's actually reserved. I only wish they would build one in Carbondale so when the Salukis are tearing it up you media types would have a comfortable place to stay.
Nice push for the Salukis. But comfort isn't the Downtown Indianapolis Courtyard's problem; it's their understanding what a "reservation" is. I'll stay anyplace. In fact, I've stayed in hotels so cheap they stole my towel. (The preceding line was stolen from Rodney Dangerfield.)
- One of our favorite high school coaches, Travis Jones of Orlando (Fla.) Edgewater checked in. After winning the Florida 6A state title with a 30-2 record last year, Jones is dealing with "the definition of rebuilding" this season. He lost four college recruits, including Memphis guard Darius Washington, but does still have 6-foot-8 Quintin Thornton.
- There isn't a much better way to kick off the start of the work week than an early morning drive from Lexington to Louisville. Beautiful weather, no traffic and a hot cup of coffee as white-fenced horse parks passed by.
- On the ride back to Lexington (we'll report Wednesday on Kentucky) lunch was found in the scenic, historic downtown Frankfort. The Kentucky capital is one of those quaint little towns you never hear about but could envision living in.
Tink's BBQ, a political hangout/lunch spot on St. Clair St., served up some of its famous chili and a pulled pork sandwich.
- And yes, readers in North Carolina (where we will be later this week) – we know you do pulled pork better than anyone. A man named Todd Rhodes of Winston-Salem is promising to set us up in Piedmont.
- We always say you can't swing a dead cat in Kentucky without hitting a Waffle House (which is a good thing). But nothing is funnier than when a Waffle House loses its franchise status and the next owner comes in and changes it to a "Waffle & Steak," apparently because House and Steak have the same number of letters and you don't need to build a new sign.
And to think there are knockoff Waffle Houses.
- Personally, we have a great affinity for Kentucky. But we understand how some might chuckle at the current state motto: "Kentucky: Where education pays."
Bearup, who lived here for a decade, points out the great Mark Twain quote: "When the end of the world comes I want to be in Kentucky, because there it will come 20 years later."
- Total mileage thus far: 1,170.8 miles.
- Next campaign stop: Lexington, Ky.
- Rick Pitino
- Reggie Theus