Pitino, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, is expected to coach his first game on Dec. 27.
Pitino’s goal is to return to the NBA as a head coach, and his hope is that the Panathinaikos job can be a steppingstone to achieving that.
Pitino, 66, fired a year ago amid an FBI probe at Louisville, will travel to Athens shortly after Christmas to take over a talented, but underachieving, roster that includes several former NBA players.
The Athens team is expected to part ways with its coach, Xavi Pascual, to clear the way for Pitino, sources told ESPN.
Pitino recently told ESPN that he hoped for an opportunity to return to the NBA as a coach. He has been radioactive among NBA and major college basketball programs since his scandalous end at Louisville in October 2017, but modern basketball history regards him as one of the great teachers, tacticians and motivators in the sport.
Panathinaikos has started 6-7 in EuroLeague, leaving the team in 10th place. The owner, Dimitrios Giannakopoulos, has a volcanic reputation in Europe. He was fined 150,000 euros in 2015 for barging into the referee’s room and threatening to kill the officials and their families after a playoff victory over CSKA Moscow.
Panathinaikos’ roster includes Nick Calathes, Georgios Papagiannis, Keith Langford, Deshaun Thomas, James Gist and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the older brother of Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Pitino has had three runs in professional basketball: Boston Celtics president and coach, New York Knicks coach and Knicks assistant coach.
Pitino was fired at Louisville in the aftermath of the FBI probe into college basketball. Testimony and recordings of government-taped calls suggested that Pitino was unaware of the payments made to former Louisville recruit Brian Bowen’s family.
The FBI probe was the final in a series of scandals at Louisville — including an NCAA investigation into strippers and prostitutes used in recruiting visits with players at the school.
Before the scandal that ousted him at Louisville, Pitino authored a legendary college career. He won two national championships (1996 and 2013) and reached five Final Fours. He was 647-392 overall.
Pitino resigned from the Celtics early in his fourth season in 2001 with a 102-146 record. He was considered to have been overwhelmed with dual roles after signing pro sports’ biggest coaching/executive deal to date (10 years, $70 million). He resigned with nearly $30 million left on the deal.
“I’m not looking for any of that [power/control] at this stage of my life,” Pitino told ESPN recently. “I want to develop teams and develop players and build a winner. I value analytics. I want to fit into an organization. At this stage, that’s all I’m interested in.”
Pitino had a shorter, but more successful, run as coach of the Knicks in the late 1980s, winning an Atlantic Division title and reaching the playoffs twice (1988 and 1989) before leaving for Kentucky. Under Pitino, the Knicks won 52 regular-season games and reached the conference semifinals in his final season with the team.