Bob Brown, Skip Chappelle among Maine connections to Hall of Fame-bound Rick Pitino, who cut coaching teeth in New England
Bob Brown has lived the game of basketball for most of his 75 years.
During more than a half-century as a coach and teacher of the game, the Augusta native has been fortunate to cross paths with some outstanding players and coaches.
On Monday night, one of his coaching peers was calling the shots as the University of Louisville defeated Michigan for the NCAA Division I national championship in Atlanta.
In the 1980s, Brown worked two seasons at Boston University with current Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, who on Friday was announced as a member of the 2013 class for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Brown claims that if he had pulled a Rip Van Winkle and slept from 1981 until Monday night, it would have been obvious who was coaching Louisville just from watching the Cardinals play.
“I would say, yeah, that’s Rick’s team,” said Brown, who is visiting his son Brett and his family in San Antonio, Texas.
Brett Brown is an assistant coach with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.
The memory of the young Pitino’s unique approach remains fresh in Bob Brown’s mind all these years later.
“The thing he could do was motivate his kids to play unbelievably hard for the entire game — not for 38 minutes or 39 minutes,” Brown said Monday. “If they didn’t play hard for a nanosecond, they would be on the bench.”
The other element that has become the trademark of Pitino’s teams is pressure defense.
“When you think of intense, full-court pressure for 40 minutes on the defensive end of the court, you immediately have to say Louisville [and Pitino],” Brown added.
The 60-year-old Pitino has amassed 663 victories in 28 seasons and owns a .735 winning percentage. He led Kentucky to a national title in 1996.
He will earn $3.9 million per year through the 2021-22 season.
In 1979, after spending two seasons with coach Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, the 25-year-old Pitino landed his first head coaching job at Boston University.
One of his early recruits was Brett Brown, a two-time BDN All-Maine first-team pick out of South Portland High School. Pitino brought Bob Brown on board two years later.
In 1983, Pitino guided BU to its first NCAA tournament berth in 24 years. It was the first of 18 teams he has taken to the tourney in 28 seasons.
BU played in the ECAC North Atlantic along with the University of Maine, which was coached by Old Town native Skip Chappelle. During Pitino’s five seasons on Commonwealth Avenue (1978-83), Chappelle’s Black Bears won four of seven meetings.
But in 1982-83, the Terriers beat UMaine three times en route to its first NCAA appearance in 24 years. Chappelle remembers BU’s defense.
“They were no different than what you’re seeing now,” Chappelle said. “You’re talking about full-court, end line to end line [pressure]. You’re talking about three-quarter and half-court.”
Pitino left BU and spent two seasons with the NBA’s New York Knicks before coaching at Providence College, the job that propelled him into the big time.
His Friars beat Chappelle’s UMaine squad in two meetings, including a victory early in the 1986-87 campaign. That season, Pitino’s squad, led by Billy Donovan (now the head coach at Florida), went all the way to the Final Four.
Pitino, a Long Island native, attended the University of Massachusetts, where the 6-foot point guard carved out a reputation as a playmaker. Pitino, who played only 10 games as a sophomore, finished his three-year varsity career with 329 assists.
That ranks 10th in Minutemen history, and he is still fifth in UMass annals after averaging 5.2 assists in 63 games.
For three seasons, Pitino played against Chappelle-coached UMaine varsity teams and held the upper hand, helping UMass post a 5-1 record against the Black Bears from 1972-74.
During 1971-72, the UMaine freshman team traveled to Amherst, Mass., to battle the UMass freshmen. In those days, first-year players were not allowed to play on the varsity squad.
“We got our behinds handed to us at UMass,” said Chappelle, who was the freshman coach.
Tony Hamlin of Milo played on that squad and was a varsity player the next three seasons. In March, Hamlin retired from coaching after leading Penquis Valley to the Class C boys basketball state championship at the final game in the Bangor Auditorium.
He remembers Pitino the player pales in comparison to Pitino the coach.
“He just distributed the ball. He looked to shoot once in a while,” Hamlin recalled. “He wasn’t a tough cover, because he wasn’t really quick, but he was smart.”
Pitino began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Hawaii in 1974 and was named a full-time assistant the next season. He served as the interim head coach for the last six games during 1975-76, going 2-4.
New England basketball fans also are likely to recall Pitino’s greatest professional failure as the president and head coach of the Boston Celtics. The team went 102-145 in 3 1/2 seasons (1997-2001).
He landed softly at Louisville, where he has coached the Cardinals to nine NCAA berths, three Final Fours and, now, a championship.