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Pitino returns to Panathinaikos until summer of 2021

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Athens (AFP)

Former NBA coach Rick Pitino has returned to Panathinaikos and signed a contract until the summer of 2021, the Athens club announced on Tuesday.

"I'm not making that much money," said the 67-year-old former coach of the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks but, he added, Dimitris Giannakopoulos, the team owner "gives me respect and control and at my age it is more important than dollars".

Pitino led Panathinaikos to the Greek league title last season before quitting because he wanted to return to the US.

He said his wife persuaded him to return to Greece.

"She told me you are a coach. God has given you talent, use it," Pitino told reporters upon arriving at Athens airport.

He replaces Argiris Pedoulakis who was fired on November 19 after two straight home losses in the EuroLeague even though the team was top of the domestic league.

Pitino will be on the bench for the first time this season on Thursday when Panathinaikos host Spanish club Baskonia of Vitoria in the EuroLeague.

He said that he is "very close" with the Panathinaikos players and had stayed in touch with them.

"I know we are doing well on offence, now we have to improve on defence. If we do that, we will have a great team," he added.

Earlier this month, Pitino announced that he would be coaching the Greek national team starting next May.

"Joining Panathinaikos is great for me and the national team. I can see Maccabi, CSKA Moscow, Olympiakos and other Greek players on other teams now that I am in Greece," he said.

In six seasons coaching in the NBA, with the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, Pitino only had a winning record once.

He made his name in US college basketball, guiding Kentucky to a national title in 1996 and then repeating the feat at Louisville in 2013, but the university was stripped of that title in 2017 as punishment for a "pay-for-play" recruiting scandal that ended Pitino's US career.

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