Rick Pitino: Billy Donovan 'would rather embarrass himself than embarrass a player'

"It will always be about team," Pitino says of Donovan, whom the Bulls hired.

(670 The Score) After the rocky Jim Boylen era was marked by plenty of friction between the coach and locker room, the Bulls have turned to a new leader who comes with an entirely different reputation.

Chicago on Tuesday hired Billy Donovan to be its new coach, and the praise began flowing soon after regarding his strong relationships with players, including from legendary coach Rick Pitino, whom Donovan played under at Providence and with the New York Knicks and who considers Donovan a “son.”

“Billy is a unique coach because he’s a little bit of everything,” Pitino said in an interview with Dan Bernstein and Leila Rahimi on 670 The Score on Wednesday. “He’s an outstanding teacher. He’s a great communicator, terrific motivator. He demands excellence, but he does it in a way – let’s say the opposite of a Bruce Arians (with Bucs in NFL). And I’m not knocking Bruce when I say this, he came out (recently) and said, ‘Tom Brady didn’t do this and the receiver didn’t do that.’ You’re never going to find Billy doing that. Billy will never air out any player’s weaknesses with the media. He would find that extremely destructive to the fiber of a basketball team. So although he demands excellence, everything he’ll do will be behind closed doors. It will always be about team. And he’s probably – of all the players I’ve coached, of all the people that have worked with me – Billy Donovan or Frank Vogel are the two most selfless individuals I’ve been around.
It’s never – and I mean never – not even 1% about them. It’s always about the players and the team. So I think he’s a perfect fit for the modern NBA basketball player.”

Donovan joins the Bulls after coaching the Thunder for the past five seasons, over which he amassed a .608 winning percentage that ranks 16th in NBA history and fourth among active coaches for those with a minimum of 100 games. Oklahoma City advanced to the playoffs in all five seasons under Donovan’s direction, reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2015-’16 and then losing in the first round each of the ensuing four years.

Pitino believes Donovan has the right combination of being “a damn good teacher on the court” and drawing respect from his players while finding a way to motivate them.

“Billy is very demanding, but we never – he would rather embarrass himself than embarrass a player,” said Pitino, who now coaches Iona. “He will never do that. He will be really great. He’s a great practice coach, a great teacher, a great scout.”