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  • Clayton Trutor

Book Excerpt: "Boston Ball" by Clayton Trutor

Chapter 5: Great Kids (Pitino)

“Practices under Sig [Sigler] and Liebowitz were very calm and mild and orderly and short. Under Rick [Pitino], they were marathons,” Desmond Martin said. As a sophomore, Martin lost 20 pounds playing for his new coach.

“Sometimes I was too tired after practice to go eat,” Glen Bressner said.

“We were running about five miles a day and that’s just on the track, not counting all the suicides,” Wally West remembered.

“We had a ten-minute drill where we’re on the third floor of Case and if you got kicked out of practice for throwing a bad pass or doing something that we considered silly, then you had ten minutes to run down three flights of stairs, go to your locker, put on your sweats, run out to the track, run a mile, come back in, put your sweats back in your locker, get back up the three flights of stairs, and get back to practice. If you didn’t make it, you had to do it again,” John Teague said. Typically, the “ten-minute drill” was done in the cold and snow of a Boston winter.

“Anyone tell you about the Brick Drills? Two building bricks taped with white athletic tape? And at the end of practice, you would be required to do these brick drills to exhaust the number of mistakes you made during practice? You got assigned a brick drill for every bad pass you made or if you had a turnover. There was a tally of bricks behind your name on the ledger. At the end of practice, you had to remove all those bricks behind your name. What it meant was that you had to do defensive slides from one end of the baseline to the other. And you had to do 20 of those rotations in a minute with bricks in your hands for each brick. And this was after three hours of practice,” Glen Bressner, a veteran of many post-practice bricks, reminisced.

“And then we had a drill we hated called ‘170 in 4,’ where we had to hit 170 layups in 4 minutes as a team. And you had people that would stand there and pass you the ball as you went up and down the court and you had four minutes to do that,” John Teague recalled.

“Practice six to eight in the morning. Then individual instruction, full court, ballhandling drills, conditioning drills, shooting drills for an hour-and-a-half between your class schedule. Then three to six at night with full-on stations and garbage cans you threw up into, then dinner and study hall from seven till nine. It was brutal. The NCAA put in the rule limiting the number of hours you could practice per week because of Pitino’s practices. That’s why they call it the ‘Pitino Rule,’” Jay Twyman said.

“We were in the gym before class started. We were in the gym during our breaks. And then we had practice at four. And the practices were incredibly disciplined, and it was tough to get through. But he taught us how to win,” Glenn Consor said.

“I can honestly say that I became the best player that I could have possibly been under him. I wish I would have had him for four years,” Glenn Consor said.

“With no restrictions of time beyond getting to class and hitting the books, a coach could improve players skills just by working closely with them,” Pitino wrote of his time at Boston University, before the “20-hour rule” came into place.

On October 15, 1978 at 12:01 AM, Rick Pitino held his first official practice at Boston University, adopting the ritual of “midnight madness” that Maryland’s Lefty Driesell started earlier in the decade. Before his team broke a sweat, the BU athletic department hosted BU alums and supporters for a cocktail party. In front of the assemblage, Pitino introduced his team, talked about the exciting slate of opponents BU would be bringing to Boston in the coming years, and put his team through a vigorous 45-minute workout. The physical exertion Pitino expected out of his players would not wane for the next six months. At the time, Pitino was the youngest coach in the country. What he lacked in experience, he made up for with energy, work ethic, and knowledge of the game. What he lacked in gravitas, he made up for with his natural gifts as a teacher and a psychologist. Most importantly, he had a clear vision for what he wanted BU basketball to look like in the 1978-1979 season.

Pitino taught basketball in a hands-on fashion. He set up stations just like those at Five Star to teach the nuances of the game. The “Boy Coach,” as he was known around the BU athletic department, frequently challenged his charges to one-on-one or two-on-two games, before, during, and after practices. Full court scrimmages that resembled track meets were an everyday occurrence. Pitino, just two or three years older than many of his players, participated in many full court scrimmages and competed with the same intensity as he coached. On occasion, he nearly came to blows with some of his own players over a shove, an elbow, or a hard foul during one of these uniformly physical affairs. Combine all of this with a conditioning regimen that would have made even Soviet hockey coach Anatoly Tarasov wince and you had a basketball team that was primed to attack the opposition.

“The fitness level and hard work fed directly into Rick Pitino’s playing style, which was to press and run for 40 minutes,” Tom Masters, who played on Pitino’s first BU team, said. “He didn’t show up at BU and formulate any strategy based on the personnel available to him. He was going to mold the players he inherited to the style he wanted to play.”

****CBT readers can save 40% off the cover price of Boston Ball by going to and using promo code 6AF23. Big thanks to Clayton Trutor for this.


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