Acclaimed NBA and college basketball coach Rick Pitino has agreed to lead the Panathinaikos Basketball Club until the end of the season, according to an announcement on his Twitter page on Christmas Day.
“Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas! I want to thank Dimitris Giannakopoulos for the unique opportunity to coach Panathinaikos — great tradition. I’m fired up to help!” Pitino tweeted.
The name of the basketball Hall of Famer had been bruited about in Greek media in the past few days, but no official announcement had yet been made by Panathinaikos or the 66-year-old coach himself.
Pitino will replace Xavi Pascual who has been at the helm of the team since 2016. A string of losses in the Euroleague apparently led Panathinaikos owner Dimitris Giannakopoulos to fire Pascual.
The naming of the American coach has caused a stir among Panathinaikos fans as well as in Greek media. Pitino has served as the head coach of several teams in NCAA Division I basketball as well as the NBA, including Boston University (1978–1983), Providence College (1985–1987). He also led the New York Knicks (1987–1989), the University of Kentucky (1989–1997), the Boston Celtics (1997–2001) and the University of Louisville (2001–2017).
Pitino led Kentucky to the NCAA championship in 1996. He is the only coach to lead three different schools (Providence, Kentucky, and Louisville) to a Final Four. Puerto Rico also honored the coach by naming him to head their Olympic basketball team in 2010, but Pitino had to refuse because of a conflict.