Rick Pitino has a summer job – getting Greece into Tokyo Olympics

Published 10:29 pm Sunday, June 27, 2021

Rick Pitino professes to knowing three Greek words: Kalimera, kalispera and kalinichta, which translate to good morning, good afternoon and good night.

Luckily for the Hall of Famer, basketball is a universal language.

The Iona College coach — formerly of Providence, Louisville, Kentucky, the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics, among other stops — is also the coach of the Greek men’s national team, which begins play Tuesday in one of the four remaining Olympic qualifying tournaments that will determine the last four spots in the men’s field for the Tokyo Games.

Greece hasn’t been to the Olympics in men’s basketball since 2008, and it is a bit of a long shot to get there this year — in part because the country’s best player, two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, is otherwise engaged at the moment with the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, along with his brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

“It would be great for the players who play in Greece,” said Pitino, who has never been to an Olympics, not even as a fan. “It’s been a long time since they’ve gotten there. Having Giannis and Thanasis would certainly have been a big deal for us, but this is about these players more than it is about me.”

Greece plays Canada on Tuesday in the first game of the qualifier in Victoria, British Columbia, then faces China on Thursday. It’ll need to win at least one of those games to move into the semifinals; the other three teams competing there are Uruguay, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

When Pitino and the Greeks arrived in Canada, the first film he showed them was “Miracle” — the Disney version of the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that stunned the world in Lake Placid, New York, by beating the Soviet Union in the medal round and then winning a gold medal.