LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - As awful and ugly of an exit as this is for Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, one former player of his at the University of Kentucky say it does not change what he thinks of him.
"None of us that played for him wanted to see this happen," said Cameron Mills, who played for Pitino for three years and won a national championship under him. "I don't think there's a guy that played for him that is not in some sense - and I don't want to overstate it - grieving."
Mills told WKYT's Garrett Wymer that Pitino was tough, but he made him into the best player he could be, spending time and effort to push Mills to succeed.
"I don't think I would trade my three years for him for anything," Mills said. "It would have been easier under someone else, but I don't think I would have ever been the basketball player I became."
Rick Pitino helped resurrect UK's program from scandal and quickly turned the Cats back into winners at Rupp Arena.
He is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
He has led teams to seven Final Fours and coached two teams to national titles: Kentucky in 1996 and Louisville in 2016.
But will scandals in Pitino's later years at Louisville tarnish his legacy?
Mills said he is sad for Coach Pitino and his family, as well as the extended family of those who played for him.
"I think for a lot of us who played for him, there's definitely a loyalty there," Mills said. "Look, we won't defend any of this. We won't say any of this is OK. And I don't know that any of us will say for certain that none of this happened. I don't know. What I will say, though, is that this is not how I wanted his career in any way to end."
Mills says he realizes that it is personal for him, but he says Cats fans still should not gloat over their rival's misfortune.
"It’s sad to see him have to lose his job this way, but it’s a mistake and it’s a huge mistake," Antoine Walker, who also played under Pitino, told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "It’s an unfortunate situation, but his legacy and him being a Hall of Famer, what he’s done on the court, is still second to none. We can’t let that overshadow it."
Other former UK players have also weighed in.
Rex Chapman did not play for Pitino, but calls him a friend.
In a tweet he said that he is "crushed today for U of L, the state & my friend."
Rick Pitino is a friend of 35-yrs. I'm crushed today for U of L, the state & my friend. We've had two elite programs in KY forever. Damn.— Rex Chapman (@rex_rexchapman) September 27, 2017
A retired jersey for Pitino hangs in the rafters at Rupp Arena. There has been some talk about what happens to that now. Mills says it should stay.
UK officials told the Louisville Courier-Journal that there is no procedure currently in place to remove individuals from the UK Athletics Hall of Fame or the arena rafters.
"The UK Athletics Hall of Fame honors individuals for their contributions to the University of Kentucky athletics department," DeWayne Peevey, UK's deputy director of athletics and chair of UK's Hall of Fame committee, told the Louisville Courier-Journal in a statement. "At this time, there are no conversations as it relates to the removal of any individual."