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NCAA Tournament coaches Pitino, Beilein very different but both good at what they do

Rick Pitino John Beilein

Rick Pitino, John Beilein

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Updated: April 8, 2013 9:48PM

ATLANTA — Two talented coaches. Two interesting back stories. One national championship.

When Louisville and Michigan square off Monday night, it will be the Cardinals against the Wolverines. But their coaches are more like the tortoise and the hare.

Rick Pitino’s career path was more like a skyrocket. Head coach at Boston University when he was 25. In the 1987 Final Four with Providence nine years later. Back and forth from the New York Knicks to Kentucky to the Boston Celtics to Louisville. The guy chooses among dream jobs the way the rest of us pick out a shirt.

A glib New Yorker, the 60-year-old Pitino also has a charming love-of-the-game way that sets him apart from his Kentucky rival, John Calipari, who can be a little too mercenary. He readily agrees, for example, that overly zealous defense has stymied offense and made college basketball an ugly game. His solution is for officials to call fouls on the clutch-and-grab stuff to make it go away.

‘‘Everybody cuts and passes, freedom of movement,’’ Pitino said Sunday. ‘‘That’s what we’ve got to get back to. The only way to do it is in the first 10 games of the season. The games have to be ugly, and the players will adjust. Then you will see great offense again.’’

It’s all in sharp contrast to down-home John Beilein, whose resumé reads more like The Little Engine That Could. It has been LeMoyne, Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and all points East for Beilein, a plain-spoken, native of upstate New York.

Everyone always knew Beilein, 60, could ‘‘coach ’em up.’’ The difference now is that he’s coaching up a roster that oozes talent, from national player of the year Trey Burke to 6-10 rising star Mitch McGary, a February work-in-progress who’s going to have to make an NBA decision this spring.

What people might not know is that the cousins of Beilein’s mother reportedly inspired the movie ‘‘Saving Private Ryan,’’ in which the Army goes to great lengths to pull a soldier from the front lines because his brothers have been killed.

Beilein, who’s the eighth of nine children, didn’t have a true appreciation for the family history until he saw the fictionalized version by Steven Spielberg. It wasn’t discussed a whole lot while he was growing up in Tonawanda, N.Y., he said. The actual story, in which two brothers died on D-Day and another (who later was found alive) was shot down that same week, wasn’t a big topic of discussion until Beilein was older.

‘‘When my parents began talking about it more, you realize there were so many deaths in so many different ways in that family,’’ Beilein said. ‘‘They had so much tragedy in their life. They were so resilient. We didn’t talk about it. Now it hits me how unique that was and what great stock we all come from.’’

In some respects, though, Pitino and Beilein are similar. They run good offenses and defenses that suit their personnel, and they bond tightly with their players.

Even if they do it with different styles.

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