N.C. State basketball coach Kevin Keatts finally connected with his mentor, Rick Pitino, earlier this week.
Pitino, the former Louisville coach, was fired by the university earlier this month after his name allegedly surfaced as part of the FBI’s investigation into two college basketball schemes involving paying players in exchange for steering those recruits to certain schools and adidas.
But Keatts, who was an assistant under Pitino at Louisville from 2011-14, remains steadfast in his support of his former boss.
“I had a chance to talk to coach Pitino for the first time a couple of days ago,” Keatts said Wednesday. “Basically the conversation was very short. What I told him was, ‘Coach, I’ve been thinking about you and your family and that you are in our blessings.’ There’s a lot of information that’s not out there. That’s yet to come out. What I will say is the information that’s been provided, that’s not the same guy that I coached with four years ago.”
Keatts was a successful high school coach during his 10 years at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia before Pitino hired him as an assistant coach at Louisville in 2011. With the Cardinals, Pitino and Keatts won conference titles three years in a row (2012-13 with the Big East and 2014 with the ACC) and won the NCAA tournament in 2013.
The FBI investigation isn’t the first time Pitino has been involved in a scandal recently.
The NCAA in June suspended Pitino for the first five games of the 2017-18 season after the NCAA said the school committed recruiting violations by providing strippers and escorts to recruits.
Because of the stripper scandal, Louisville’s 2013 national championship is in the process of being vacated, and the Cardinals self-imposed a postseason ban in 2015-16. The school was also placed on probation by the NCAA.
Keatts was on Louisville’s staff when the NCAA says the violations occurred, but he is not named in that investigation.
Pitino helped Keatts become UNCW’s coach in 2014. The Seahawks won 72 games and made two NCAA tournament appearances in three seasons under Keatts before N.C. State hired him in March to replace Mark Gottfried, who was fired in February.
Last month, the FBI investigation found evidence that an adidas representative allegedly paid recruit Brian Bowen’s family in exchange for him to sign with Louisville. Bowen was not named in the FBI’s documents.
When asked if he thought Pitino, a Hall of Fame coach, would coach somewhere again, Keatts deferred.
“That’s a question you’ll have to ask him,” Keatts said.
Keatts did address what Pitino has meant to his career.
“I ran a very successful prep school, and it was a very good situation for me,” Keatts said of his time at Hargrave. “It wasn’t that he gave me a chance to become a coach. He gave me a chance to coach under him as a Hall of Famer and to be a coach in that program. I remember when he first hired me he said ‘I don’t hire assistant coaches. I hire future head coaches.’ Everything that he said certainly turned out well for me.”