Vogel pulling for his mentor, Rick Pitino – ‘He’s the reason I’m in this business’
Millions of eyes will be on Indianapolis this weekend as the city hosts yet another big event. This time, it’s the Midwest Regional of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
With two road games this weekend, in Washington D.C. and Cleveland, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel won’t be around to attend the contests but he does have a rooting interest — though his allegiances are being tested.
Vogel dreamt of being a coach someday, and after playing at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, Vogel reached out to Rick Pitino, the Kentucky coach at the time, and convinced Pitino to let him be a small part of what they were doing.
So for his senior season (1995-96) the hard-working Vogel grew from being a student manager to playing on the junior varsity team. Pitino, along with Jim O’Brien, Pitino’s assistant at the time, took an interest in him. A few years later, when Pitino accepted the job to be the Boston Celtics’ head coach in 1997, he brought Vogel with him as the video coordinator — and the rest is history.
Too busy with his own season and family it home, Vogel admittedly didn’t fill out a bracket this March. But when it comes to who he’s pulling for, his alma mater (Kentucky) or his mentor (Louisville), it’s a no-brainer.
“Go Cardinals!,” he said proudly.
“I graduated from UK. I loved UK. I rooted for them in the Wichita State game, a big win, but Rick’s my guy. He’s the reason I’m in this business so I’ve got to pull for him.”
Tennessee and Michigan get things going Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, with Louisville and Kentucky squaring off in the nightcap. The winners meet on Sunday for the right to move on to the Final Four, held in North Texas.
Pitino, who sat in Vogel’s seats at a home game this season and then was in the locker room afterwards, spoke highly of his protégé on Wednesday.
“I’m extremely proud of Frank,” he said. “He’s done it the right way, worked his way up the right way. (He’s) one of the best workers I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. [He] knew how to do it, is doing a fabulous job there. And he told me last year, at a game, he said, ‘Coach, we’re going to get back and we’re going to win this darn thing.’ And although he carries himself very humbly, he has great confidence in the Pacers and what they’re going to do. I’m super excited. I’m a big Pacer fan, excited to see what he’s going to do.”
Five of the Pacers’ 15 players saw their collegiate school compete in the tournament. Three players — Andrew Bynum, Ian Mahinmi and Luis Scola — did not attend a U.S. college.
Two Pacers were excited to see their alma mater advance to the Sweet Sixteen: Solomon Hill’s Arizona Wildcats (1 seed), and C.J. Watson’s Tennessee Volunteers (11).
Watson, along with Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings, visited with Tennessee at their practice on Thursday, held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Although the only holdover from Watson’s time (2002-06) is the trainer, but he does keep an eye on the program during a very busy NBA season.
“Not a lot,” Watson said when asked how frequently he’s able to catch their games. “I watch the games when they’re on ESPN or whatever, and we don’t have a game or practice.”
David West’s school, Xavier, lost in the First Four but he still has an interest in No. 1 Arizona. Head coach Sean Miller was an assistant coach at Xavier for two of West’s seasons.