Earlier this year, the 67-year-old Pitino led Panathinaikos to the Greek Basketball Cup title, though he stepped down as coach and team president in June to pursue a job in the NBA. While with Panathinaikos, he criticized fans of the club for smoking and lighting flares during games, calling the atmosphere “awful.”
“I smoke cigars on a golf course but there’s nobody else around,” Pitino said. “But you’re in an arena and 10,000 are smoking and the players are choking. So, sooner or later, you’ve got to say: ‘Hey man, we’re at an athletic event and I’m going to discipline myself and we’ll wait until halftime. And I’m going to go out and blow my brains out with cigarettes.’ That’s your option. But not when there are athletes and there are little kids who want to come to the game. … But they don’t care about young people and the athletes who are breathing it in.”
Now he’ll perhaps get a chance to work with NBA most valuable player Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brother, Thanasis, who both could play for Greece at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Both played at this year’s FIBA World Cup in China, where Greece failed to finish as one of the top two European teams and thus must qualify for the Olympics via a tournament in June, one in which the Antetokounmpo brothers likely will not play because of their NBA commitments.
“Obviously it’s a great honor for me to accept this position, and I’m looking forward to it,” Pitino told reporters Friday. “I’ll spend most of the winter, once the brackets are announced, studying the film and we’ll go to work.”
Greece, a two-time European champion, has not qualified for the Olympic basketball tournament since 2008 and has finished fifth in its last three appearances. Thanasis Skourtopoulos, the team’s coach for its 11th-place finish in China, was criticized during the World Cup for resting Giannis Antetokounmpo during the fourth quarter of a 69-53 loss to the United States in the tournament’s second round.
Pitino previously coached the Puerto Rican national team, leading it to a fifth-place finish at the 2015 FIBA Americas championship before stepping down.