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PITINO RESIGNS AS COACH OF KNICKS, NOW LOOKS FORWARD TO KENTUCKY CHALLENGE

Rick Pitino is going from pro basketball to probation.

Pitino resigned as coach of the NBA's New York Knicks on Tuesday and is expected to be named coach at the University of Kentucky later this week. The job at Kentucky, one of the most prestigious in college basketball, carries with it a three-year NCAA probation for recruiting violations under Coach Eddie Sutton, who resigned in March."I think right now, in the best interest of everyone, my job is to turn around the University of Kentucky," Pitino said Tuesday night after reaching agreement with the Knicks and being released from his contract. "That's my job right now. It's going to take quite a few years to do so."

It took Pitino two years to take the Knicks from near the bottom of the NBA to 52 victories and the Atlantic Division title. But it wasn't really what he wanted.

"I wasn't looking to get into professional basketball," said Pitino, 36, who led Providence College to the 1987 Final Four before joining the Knicks. "I wanted to be a part of the turnaround here with the New York Knickerbockers. I wish it could have lasted longer, but you have to know who you are and I'm a college basketball coach and I think that's where my heart is."

So Pitino will head to the heart of Kentucky and the winningest college basketball program ever. A program with a dagger stuck deep within its breast.

The Wildcats, 13-19 last season, their first losing record in 62 years, are banned from postseason tournament play for two years and not allowed on live television for next season. That didn't scare Pitino.

"I've always gone in with one thing in mind, that we were obviously going to go in there and do it the right way and win and build a very entertaining style of play," he said.

Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton, told of Pitino's availability, said, "That's great. We're obviously pleased with that because that was part of the process - Rick being able to obtain a release from his commitment to the Knickerbockers. Now that that's occurred, we can continue on and see where it ends up."

Knicks general manager Al Bianchi gave Pitino permission to discuss the Kentucky job, but the Knicks have said they expected to get back the money they spend in searching for a new coach. That hurdle apparently was overcome at Tuesday's meeting and the search will begin immediately.

"Rick has been very good at keeping me apprised about things," Bianchi said. "When the Kentucky thing came up, he explained the situation would be good for him and his family. He gave us two good years, how can we deny him this?"

Pitino scoffed at reports that he had feuded with Bianchi.

"There is no dispute and there hasn't been a dispute in two years with Al Bianchi," Pitino said. "Al Bianchi is an outstanding general manager and I think under his guidance we will see a banner - and I say `we will' because I'm part of New York - hanging in Madison Square Garden sometime down the road."

Who might coach the Knicks down that road?

Among those mentioned for the job are Dallas Mavericks coach John McLeod; North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano; Dick Motta, the man McLeod replaced in Dallas, and Chicago Bulls assistant Phil Jackson.