- In an excerpt from his book, Pitino: My Story, former Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino details how he processed and handled the news of the escort scandal.
The following is excerpted from the book Pitino: My Story. Published by Diversion Books, Copyright ©2018 by Rick Pitino.
Fast-forward from the 2013 championship to September 2015, and I was in Mexico City coaching the Puerto Rican national team at the International Basketball Federation’s qualifying tournament for the Olympics. A number of people wondered if I had taken the job to land a future recruit. But that wasn’t the case at all. The team was filled with older players. I had volunteered to coach because I’ve always loved Puerto Rico, I loved the idea of trying to get the team into the Olympics, and I was interested in learning about the international game. I had Louisville assistant coach Mike Balado with me, and while we were trying to regroup after an ugly first game against Brazil, my cell phone rang. Kenny Klein, the University of Louisville sports information director, was on the line.
I’ve had some tough phone calls in my life, agonizing and heartbreaking calls. But this was the strangest, most unlikely call I’ve ever received in my life. And one of the most disturbing.
Kenny told me a crisis was unfolding back in Kentucky. A woman named Katina Powell had written a book claiming Andre McGee—a former Cardinals guard who had spent four years with the team as a graduate assistant and director of basketball operations—had brought strippers onto campus to entertain and have sex with potential recruits.
I could not believe what I was hearing. Immediately, I called Kareem Richardson, who had been my assistant coach when Louisville won the NCAA Basketball Championship in 2013. Kareem had moved on to become the head coach of the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and he had hired Andre as an assistant.
Pitino: My Story
by Rick Pitino
The former Louisville Cardinals basketball coach addresses the scandals of his past and the current FBI investigation that led to his dismissal as head coach of the team. In the memoir, Pitino also discusses his experience with how shoe company money and other factors have affected college basketball throughout his coaching career.
“Kareem,” I said, “get Andre on the phone. I think he’s in big trouble.”
“Why, what happened?” Kareem asked.
I told him that a woman had written a book accusing Andre of the sordid recruiting violations.
Kareem located Andre and conferenced him into our call.
I tried to maintain my cool. I said, “Andre, did you know a person named Katina Powell?”
“Yes, I fooled around with her a little bit.”
“Where’d you meet her?”
“Well, she’s a party planner, and I met her at a convention downtown.”
“Did you bring girls to our dormitory?”
“Well, I brought girls in, but all they did was stay in the lobby and listen to music when the recruits came in.”
“You sure? Because I just heard she’s written a book. And apparently she’s saying you arranged for stripper shows and paid for the girls to have sex with some of the recruits.”
“No, Coach, I swear. I’m telling you: I did not do any of that.”
I was beyond furious. I tore into Andre for even bringing girls on campus. Outsiders have no place in the dorms or in the recruitment process. But really, I was enraged just by the fact that Andre had admitted he knew the woman making these outrageous charges. To me, that suggested the stories this woman was spinning weren’t fiction.
I finished ripping into him with a grim prediction: “If any of this turns out to be true, Andre, your career is over.”
He hung up, but Kareem was still on the phone. “Do you believe Andre?” I asked.
“Yeah, Coach. I do. I don’t know why he would lie.”
With Kareem’s endorsement haunting me, I started to feel guilty. I had blasted Andre because of some book I hadn’t read, written by someone I’d never heard of. I wondered if I had been too harsh. Maybe this was a rush to judgment, something I would face firsthand in the near future, but I was also giving him an opportunity to possibly save himself.
I also thought about my relationship with Andre. I trusted him, believed in him. He had been the captain of the Cardinals team that went to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2008. When a pro career didn’t work out, he earned a master’s degree in physiology. I knew him to be a highly intelligent young man with two great parents, Jackie and Anthony, who I’d met years earlier while recruiting Andre at Canyon Springs High School outside Los Angeles.
Then I thought about his career path. He had seen other assistant coaches—Kevin Willard, who became head coach of Seton Hall, and Mick Cronin, who is now the head coach at Cincinnati—work for me and go on to prosper elsewhere. He knew he was moving up the ladder. I’d promoted him from a graduate assistant position to operations coach. He was aware that Jeff Van Gundy had held a similar graduate assistant position for me at Providence, and he must have known, when he was working at Louisville, that he was on the same path taken by thirty of my former assistants. My mantra to my staff was pretty simple: Listen, watch, learn, follow all compliance regulations, and work harder than anybody else. All he had to do was follow those rules, and he was on track to possibly become a head coach one day. He must have known that. Why would he do something so reckless as hiring strippers for recruits? When
I looked at things that way, none of these allegations made any sense.
So I texted Andre the following:
I’ve had to endure much more difficult times in my life. If you are telling the truth, and money was not exchanged, it will pass. People are lying and the truth will come out. You made a mistake, tell the truth and your problems will become part of your past. I love you, son, and will stick by you if you tell the truth to the end.
The following day, I sent him another text.
’Dre, if you are telling the truth, you need to fight for your reputation. Not for Louisville, not for UMKC, but for the two most important people in your life, your parents.
When I returned from coaching in Mexico City, Kenny Klein took me through the highlights—or should I say lowlights—of the book.
The details were brutal. There were pictures. There were journal entries. Obviously, this was not what Andre told me on the phone.
According to the book and subsequent investigations, Katina Powell, the woman Andre McGee called a “party planner,” was a self-described “escort queen” who provided prostitutes—including her own daughters—for McGee’s on-campus parties. McGee was put in contact with her by a guy named Tink who ran a barbershop in downtown Louisville that was once called Cardinal Cutz. Powell’s book claims that Tink contacted her and asked if she was interested in having her girls perform for some players on the Louisville campus. That first night, Andre met Katina and her girls at a side door at Minardi Hall, the team’s residence, and led them into a two-bedroom suite. It was a routine that would be repeated numerous times.
Katina Powell’s journals are excerpted in the book, and one entry reports that while women she brought to the campus stripped, Andre “would find out which dancer each recruit and player wanted to have sex with. Then he would work a side-deal with me to negotiate the price. Usually $100–120 each… Andre paid me and I paid the girls on the spot. After the dancing, some of them went into other rooms with players.”
I called up Kareem again. “Tell Andre he better get a lawyer because he’s got a major problem,” I said. I even recommended a friend of mine, Scott Cox. That was my last semi-direct communication with Andre, who actually hired Cox. My only concern at this point was Andre McGee’s welfare, as I could not believe what this woman was writing.
Although I haven’t talked to Andre, I did reach out to Cox and ask him to have Andre release a statement. All I wanted was one sentence: Nobody in the entire Louisville athletic department had anything to do with the events described in Katina Powell’s book, nor did they have any knowledge of those events. As far as I was concerned, Andre’s silence—under the direction of his attorney—had hung the entire Louisville department out to dry. But Cox has refused to let Andre breathe a word about his activities to anyone, probably out of concern that the kinds of charges Andre might theoretically face—such as promoting prostitution, a Class D felony offense—have no statute of limitations.
If Cox’s legal assessment is correct, and there is no statute of limitations for their actions, we will never know the truth of why any of this took place. I’m going to close my feelings with this statement: I know Andre McGee’s parents very well. They taught him to do the right things, I taught him to do the right things. So there are many questions in my mind that definitely go unanswered regarding why this all took place.
Redemption for Andre seems a long way off. His actions were documented in Katina Powell’s book and, if true, they were shocking and horrifying—not just on a recruiting-gone-wild level, but on a fundamental human level. As the guy who apparently paid and orchestrated all these parties, he showed contempt for his school, his team, his charges, and those women.
That said, the other central figure in Breaking Cardinal Rules, author Katina Powell, doesn’t come off any better. Powell, who wrote the book with a journalist named Dick Cady, seems to want to portray herself as a shrewd survivor, proud she has figured out a way to get paid—by providing sex and strippers and pimping other women—and spend her days high on pot. There’s never a moment of regret—not even when she writes that she brought her three daughters to campus to “entertain” prospects and players, or that her youngest daughters were fifteen and seventeen at the time of those first shows.
In one instance, she claims she arranged for her youngest daughter to sleep with highly recruited guard Antonio Blakeney—in town for an AAU tournament—while she slept with Blakeney’s guardian at the Embassy Suites hotel in Louisville. (Blakeney, who ended up attending Louisiana State University before playing for the Chicago Bulls, issued a statement via his mother, according to the book, denying ever being at the hotel.)
In fact, this is what Powell had to say in defense of her tragic family business: “People may think that I expose my kids. But, shit, they enjoy themselves. They meet new people...for those who have a problem wit’ this, kiss my ass.”
In other words: don’t judge.
But it’s hard not to—although part of me thinks, on some level, those are the words of a person who has been victimized herself, and doesn’t realize it.
At any rate, you can see why I was shocked and furious: Andre and Powell seemed to have endangered minors.