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Notebook: Rick Pitino was nearly the coach at Michigan

ATLANTA — It could have been Rick Pitino, Michigan coach.

Pitino, whose Louisville team will face Michigan on Monday night for the national title, was on the brink of heading to Ann Arbor in 2001.

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But he went to Louisville instead, returning to college basketball in Kentucky.

He had agreed to coach Michigan. And then he had a conversation with his wife.

The family was living on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, as Pitino was ending his time with the Celtics, and he was interviewing for various head coaching jobs, including UNLV and Michigan.

“She didn’t want to go to Michigan because I’ve never visited there, I didn’t know anybody there,” Pitino said. “She wanted to go back to Kentucky where she saw the family so happy for eight years.

“I said to her, ‘You don’t understand. The Kentucky coach can’t coach at Louisville.’ I said, ‘It’s a big deal. We don’t want to do that. We’ll be miserable.’ ”

Her response? “That line you’re always using, ‘I’d rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a lamb?’ You’re an [expletive] lamb.”

Pitino called the athletic director at Michigan and left a voicemail, backing out of the commitment. As he put it on Sunday, “It was the right move not necessarily for me. But it was the right move for my family.”

Michigan instead hired Tommy Amaker, now the coach at Harvard. Amaker was replaced by John Beilein in 2007.

Words of wonder

Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander has become known for his pregame speeches. They are a bit off the wall.

“Who knows what tomorrow’s pregame speech is going to be about?” Alexander said. “But I’m sure at some point in time between today and tomorrow I’ll have some type of epiphany.”

He has used everything from Pringles to athletic tape to a sledgehammer to make his points, trying to ensure that the Wolverines play with a chip on their shoulders or that they stick together or that they do the dirty work in a game.

Asked if there might be any live birds in his arsenal before Michigan takes on the Cardinals, Alexander said, “There’s a lot of animal activists out there. We don’t want to offend any of them. I’m sure there will be a caricature, something like that.”

“We try to get all our props in abstract ways,” Alexander added. “At the end of the day it’s about keeping the guys loose. The intent behind it is to keep it light, keep it fun, because basketball is a fun sport. Hopefully our kids take to it, which gives them an opportunity to perform.”

Is there pressure to top the last speech?

“Pressure is probably more prevalent in my previous profession as a Harlem Globetrotter because you’re expected to make the shots you shoot,” Alexander said. “That’s probably real pressure. This is fun.”

Quite the run

Pitino can become the first coach to win a national title with two schools. It would also be the topper on a week in which he learned he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, his son was named head coach at Minnesota, and a horse he co-owns won the Santa Anita Derby . . . The Michigan starters were asked to name the starting five on the Wolverines’ 1989 national championship team. They each got Rumeal Robinson and Glen Rice, but couldn’t name the other three (Terry Mills, Loy Vaught, and Sean Higgins) . . . Pitino was asked how he’s changed since winning the national title in 1996 with Kentucky. “I think the Boston Celtics changed me the most,” he said, later adding, “I understand this game. The Boston Celtics helped me understand it mentally, physically, what it’s all about. It’s all about the guys to my left [his players]. There’s no secret potions here.”

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.
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