Panathinaikos OPAP Athens and Hall of Fame head coach Pick Pitino have agreed to end their cooperation in the face of the COVID-19 that has forced the suspension of play in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
Pitino, 67, returned to his native United States last week and, soon after, decided to continue his career next season at Iona College in New York, while holding out the possibility of returning to Greece to complete the current EuroLeague season once games resume. On Friday, Panathinaikos announced that it had agreed with Pitino to discontinue their two-year contract, ending what is the coach's second stint with the club.
"Mr. Pitino's presence in the Panathinaikos family has been, is and will be a great honor," the club said in a statement. "Every minute of our work with Mr. Pitino was extremely instructive for all team members, and the knowledge the American coach has given us is a huge asset to our team's present and future. Every practice, every game, every discussion with him was a lesson for us all. And not just for basketball but for life itself... Mr. Pitino is one of us, lifelong friend of Panathinaikos."
Pitino initially joined Panathinaikos in the middle of last season, coaching the team to a 10-6 record to reach the playoffs before getting swept 3-0 in its series with Real Madrid. He returned for Round 11 of the current season on a contract that was set to last through the end of the 2020-21 season. After it was announced that he would coach Iona starting next season, Pitino tweeted that he still held out hope he would be able to finish the current season with Panathinaikos.
Before Friday's announcement, Pitino spoke to ESPN about his EuroLeague experience.
"I learned an awful lot going to the EuroLeague," he said. "It's a different form of basketball. It's the best offensive basketball played, [including] college and the NBA. The best offensive sets, the best ball movement, the best cuts backdoor, the best passing, the best shooting. They don't have the defenses we have because the athleticism isn't as powerful, but from a learning standpoint, I learned quite a bit. The coaching was fantastic. I've coached against Dean Smith, Frank McGuire – I put these guys on the same stage as all the great ones. I learned a great deal. Offensively, it's made me a better basketball coach."