It’s official. The Puerto Rican Basketball Federation (PRBF) and Rick Pitino agreed to end the contract that gave Louisville’s head coach the technical and training management of the island’s national team for the upcoming FIBA-Americas Olympic qualifying tournament to be held in Mar del Plata, Argentina during the months of August and September.
The NCAA’s refusal to allow the Louisville Cardinals to train in Puerto Rico this summer was seen as an obstacle by both Pitino and the PRBF. The original agreement between these two parts stated that Pitino was not going to earn a salary for coaching the Puerto Rican national team. Under this contract, the PRBF would have only provided the funding to cover the coach’s traveling costs. In exchange for his “free” services, Rick Pitino’s college team was expected and authorized (by the PRBF) to train in Puerto Rico, and participate in scrimmage games against the island’s national basketball representation.
In the end, the NCAA did not approve this summer training camp for the Cardinals, and the PRBF-Pitino agreement was canceled.
These are good news for the Puerto Rican national team. Now, the PRBF will have the opportunity to hire a full-time coach who can start training early this summer without the distractions and demands that result from coaching a college franchise. In addition to this possibility, the new technical manager can also continue on the position after the FIBA-Americas Cup, prepare young talent for the 2011 Pan-American Games and be part of a long-term restructuring project for the benefit of all basketball programs on the island of Puerto Rico.
Before the official announcement was made last December (2010) by the PRBF President, Carlos Beltrán, many Boricua basketball fans and analysts were already concerned with the possibility of hiring Pitino as the new head coach for the national team. There was a conflict between the way most people visualize the island’s main basketball representation and what coach Pitino had in mind once given the opportunity to be in charge of the current no. 13 ranked team in the world (FIBA Men’s Basketball Ranking – www.fiba.com). For many loyal Puerto Rican sports fans, basketball is a national treasure and represents a symbol of past glory and pride for those who embrace the contested, but culturally rich Puerto Rican identity (or identities). For Pitino, coaching a legendary international team is a pending “adventure” that could potentially enhance his illustrious basketball resume.
Rick Pitino’s sudden interest in Puerto Rico had a double agenda. First, he wanted to use the island’s most important basketball team to achieve a personal goal. Second, the Puerto Rican basketball programs were going to start functioning as “stables” for the recruitment of talented Boricua players for Louisville’s college team.
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be any major problems with these two goals. However, none of them prioritized the urgent need to restructure every aspect of Puerto Rico’s basketball institutions at all levels. For such a difficult task, we cannot hire people who are just in the mood for adventurous experiences and have their priorities based somewhere else. Rick Pitino was not the best man to coach team Puerto Rico.
As expressed above, the PRBF (and Carlos Beltrán) now has a good opportunity to hire a full-time person capable of being both a coach for the national team and an architect for the island’s basketball programs. That individual must also have previous (and successful) FIBA coaching experience. There are a few qualified candidates for the position. Some are Puerto Ricans; others are foreigners. We all hope that the PRBF can make a wise decision. The island’s basketball future is at stake. There is no room for improvisation. We are not looking for “messiahs” and celebrities, but for a committed person capable of transforming Puerto Rican basketball for the benefit of future generations on the island.