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PITINO MAKES PROMISE TO RETURN CLASS ACT TO WILDCAT BASKETBALL

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Rick Pitino talked about rebuilding the University of Kentucky's scandal-plagued basketball program, about seeking a return to college life after two years coaching the New York Knicks and about restoring dignity to a once-proud basketball tradition.

But Pitino, introduced here Thursday as the new Wildcats basketball coach, also issued a warning to the overzealous boosters who are in part responsible for Kentucky's current predicament of three years of NCAA probation.After almost begging a live television audience for support, Pitino said, "Stay away from our practices, stay away from our players. If you want to be my friend, then be my friend. But nobody will be a part of our basketball program except the coaching staff, athletic department and certainly the faculty.

"We're all a little embarrassed about being on the cover of Sports Illustrated. . . . You'll see us on the cover once again, but it will be cutting down nets."

Pitino said he will not stand for the $100 handshakes boosters have given players or the special favors granted players, which fueled a 1986 Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper series and a recent extensive NCAA investigation that stopped just short of the death penalty for Kentucky basketball.

Another part of Kentucky basketball tradition that Pitino apparently wants no part of is Wildcat Lodge, a hall built and reserved for the school's basketball players. Pitino said he would wait to talk with Athletics Director C.M. Newton before deciding anything, but indicated he wants to do away with the idea of a basketball dormitory.

"You can't be living off by yourself," he said. "You can't say, `I'm something special.' I want them to be part of the student body, part of the community."

He added players will have to be students first: "At Providence College, they over-achieved as much scholastically as they did athletically."

Pitino's comments came at the end of a Kentucky Athletic Association board of directors meeting. At that meeting, the board members unanimously voted to hire Pitino. He was given a seven-year contract, which called for his base salary to be $105,000 a year.

Outside income, which will include a summer camp, sneaker contract, radio and television contracts and speaking and appearance engagements, will enable Pitino to earn approximately $1 million a year, according to some reports, but considerably less, according to others. Pitino called it "a lateral move economically."

Pitino, 36, decided along with his wife, Joanne, over the weekend to accept Kentucky's offer, then severed his ties with the Knicks on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. He has said repeatedly he felt out of place in professional basketball, even though he took the Knicks from the bottom of the Atlantic Division (24-58) two years ago to the division title (52-30) this past season.

"Certainly, right now I'm not the most popular person in New York," he said, adding that he had talked to eight of the 12 players to explain his departure. "I wanted, when I left Providence College, to build the New York Knicks into a championship team. I did leave it a better place, but I did leave it incomplete. The next person there will win that championship, I am sure of that.

"I could not coach (in New York) the way I did at Boston University (1978-83) and Providence (1985-1987)," he said. "(Now) I can get back to the way I did coach."

Besides being uncomfortable in professional basketball - where players and not coaches set the rules - Pitino said he and his wife missed the college atmosphere.

At Kentucky, Pitino will attempt to build a program that will be banned from live television for a year, from post-season play for two years and limited to only three scholarships a year for the next three seasons.