February 17, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino looks on against the South Florida Bulls during the first half at the Sun Dome. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Would Rick Pitino Be Welcomed at Rupp with the 1996 Kentucky Wildcat National Champions?

There are plenty of storylines for tomorrow night’s contest against Mississippi State: the Bulldogs are one of the worst teams in the country; Andrew Wiggins is making an official visit; how will these new look Wildcats play after an emotional and pivotal win over Missouri; but the main storyline that I am going to focus on is the 1996 Champions reunion.

John Calipari will honor the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats with new look championship rings. They already have an NCAA tournament ring, but it doesn’t compare to the blinged out versions of championship jewlery that teams receive today.

The Untouchables deserve it. They were one of the greatest Kentucky Wildcat basketball teams to ever take the court. They went 34-2 for the season, won the national title, and their roster was filled with nine future NBA players. I have a feeling that Rupp Arena will be rocking when this team gets back together again to receive their honor from John Calipari.

A few members of the team may not make it to Lexington, none more noticeable than the coach of that historically great team: Rick Pitino.

Unfortunately, Pitino will be in Chicago tomorrow night as his Louisville Cardinals take on DePaul. But, hypothetically speaking, how would the crowd at Rupp Arena respond if Pitino were to join his ’96 team for their honor? I would imagine that there would be a smattering of boos mixed in with some cheers as well.

As a Kentucky fan I would welcome Pitino back and I think it is unfortunate that he will not be able to attend the festivities. I can’t forget how much he meant to the Kentucky program and how he brought it back to life. He deserves to be a part of this team just as much as Tony Delk, Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, and any of the others.

Maybe one day we can let his transgressions fade. Sure, going to Louisville seemed like a slap in the face at the time, and Rick certainly has taken his cheap shots at Big Blue Nation, but it’s apparent that the greatest regret of his coaching career was leaving Kentucky, as he again recently reiterated on a Miami radio talk show:

Do you regret at all going to the pro’s?

“No. I loved going to the Knicks because we won the Atlantic Division championship. We went from winning 21 games or 19 games to winning 52 games in a short period of time. I loved coaching Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley and all those guys. I think I do regret leaving Kentucky because I took over a team with 15 wins banking everything on the Tim Duncan lottery, and once we didn’t get Tim Duncan I realized that leaving Kentucky was not a good move.”

One day Rick Pitino will return to Kentucky, not as a rival coach, but as the legend that brought the Wildcats back from the dead and ushered in one of the most dominant periods in the long and storied history of the program.

I hope Kentucky fans will have forgiven and forgotten by then.

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