INDIANAPOLIS — If the University of Kentucky is listening, former coach Rick Pitino has a couple of things to say about its next coach.
John Pelphrey, for instance.
Travis Ford, perhaps.
Those were the recommendations of Louisville coach Pitino, who coached both men during his time as Kentucky's coach.
"I would have hired either Pelphrey or Ford last time around," Pitino said Saturday. "My first choice would have been Pat Riley. I don't say that in jest. He would have been my first choice because he was a Kentucky basketball player.
"It's such a unique job; you need to win over the fans. You need to win the press conference right away. I don't say this because I love those guys dearly as ex-players. I think they're both brilliant young coaches."
Pitino compared Pelphrey, a Billy Donovan assistant from 1994 -2002 who is now at Arkansas, and Ford, now at Oklahoma State, to where Donovan was before he came to Florida.
"Jeremy Foley, the AD of Florida, called me when Billy Donovan was at Marshall," Pitino said. "I told Billy not to take the Florida job. The program was decimated. They had no players. I convinced Billy not to take that job. At that time, he listened to me.
"I got a phone call 10 minutes later after I hung up from Billy from Jeremy. He said, 'I understand you're talking Billy out of taking this job.' I said, 'I don't dictate what Billy does. I gave my opinion. I don't think your talent is there. I think it's going to take a long time, and I think he's got a great future.'
"He said, 'Speaking of that, let me ask you this question. If I said that in three years, Billy was going to be one of the best young coaches in the game, how would you answer me?' I said, 'I would agree 100 percent.' He said, 'Okay, so why don't I give him a seven-year contract? You call him up and tell him I'll hire him, I'll give him everything he needs.' I'll never forget that.
"I called Billy up and said, 'I think you're going to work for a great man, Billy. I'd take the job.' And in three years, Billy was one of the bright stars in the game."
Three years from now, Pitino said, Pelphrey and Ford will be bright stars, too. They also are beloved by Kentucky fans.
"Everyone loves what those guys represent," Pitino said. "You could take the whole nation, myself, Tom Izzo, anyone else in the equation, those guys would be better than all of us for the job."