VAUGHT: UK fans should embrace Pitino

Count me among those who hope Rick Pitino can attend the University of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame festivities next month and I applaud UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart for calling Pitino to make sure he understood it was sincere invitation from the Wildcats.

Many UK fans have never forgiven Pitino for leaving Kentucky to coach the Boston Celtics and then coming back to coach rival Louisville. However, what should have a much larger place in any UK fan's mind is the job Pitino did rebuilding a basketball program that was teetering on disaster after problems incurred under coach Eddie Sutton's watch.

Pitino put Kentucky basketball back on the map. He turned Kentucky prep standouts John Pelphrey, Deron Feldhaus and Richie Farmer into legends. He took Kentucky to the Final Four. He put together a national championship team so talented in 1996 that future NBA players Derek Anderson and Ron Mercer couldn't crack the starting lineup.

Pitino needs to come back and cherish this honor along with so many of his players who will also be recognized. Pitino is part of UK's basketball history -- and always should be. He did remarkable things when he was coaching at Kentucky and set the stage for UK's 1998 national championship.

Pitino has readily admitted he made a mistake by leaving Kentucky. But who hasn't made mistakes? It's past time for Kentucky fans to forgive and forget. Kentucky has a coach in Tubby Smith that any other school would love to have. There's no reason to feel threatened by Pitino's presence at Louisville.

Instead, UK fans should embrace Pitino for what he did during his time with the Wildcats and remember all the good things he did for the Kentucky program. That doesn't mean UK fans have to cheer for him when the Cats play Louisville, but when it's time to honor those who have made special contributions to UK athletics, then Pitino deserves his time in the Big Blue spotlight.

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