LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Rick Pitino didn't have to say he likes his University of Louisville basketball team after it finished with a two-hour summer workout Wednesday. It was evident in just about everything he had to say about it. Read for yourself.
NCAA teams are permitted just two hours of "skill instruction" per week with their coaches during the summer, and Pitino, for the first time, burned all two hours in a single workout on Wednesday -- a workout that included highly touted incoming freshman Montrezl Harrell.
His impression: "These guys are pretty much a push-button team right now in terms of picking things up quickly."
That's a phrase you haven't heard all that often from Pitino during his tenure at U of L. There have been young teams that he had to coax up to speed, injuries that had to be accounted for, key players at times who haven't picked up what he wanted them to do. To hear the phrase "push-button" from Pitino is significant.
He didn't include Harrell in that description -- but doesn't expect that of a freshman he described as a "raw talent" and a "physical specimen."
"Today was our longest practice, got in all two hours on one day, and it really helped me integrate Montrezl, and see what he needs to work on," Pitino said.
"He's a physical specimen, a legit 6-8 with a 7-4 wingspan, who hasn't been taught a lot of offensive moves yet. We're going to be spending a lot of time on his footwork, on his jab-step, on his back-to-the-basket game, and he's going to get so much better because he doesn't have this. So he's just a raw talent who's going to take off."
And he brings the fringe benefit of being able to push sophomore Chane Behanan, whose emergence was a key reason for the Cards' run to the Final Four last season.
"There were times when you could doubt Chane," Pitino said. "Chane. Now I know he's going to reach his potential because of 'Trez pushing him every day. Montrezl wants to be on that court, and he knows to get on that court he's got to knock Gorgui (Dieng) out or he's got to knock Chane out, and he's willing to do everything possible to do that, and it's going to make those guys that much better."
Here's how comfortable Pitino is with what he saw. He left his guys with instructions to play less basketball -- not more -- because he doesn't want them to develop bad habits to mar the kind of play he's seeing right now.
"I told them that they have to have a plan every day," Pitino said. "And here's the plan. I said I don't want you spending more than 45 minutes on the court. I want your legs to get a rest. I want you to put in a maximum of 45 minutes, but get a good 45 minutes. I said I don't want you playing pickup basketball, because that's how you regress. I said I'd rather you play on-on-one basketball, with these rules -- games of five. If you play games of five you're playing hard on offense, hard on defense, winners come on. Play no more than that. Anything more than that, you start to break down, you don't guard, you don't have your hands ready, you don't play defense, you don't really get after it offensively.
"So I've given them certain things to follow -- improve your quickness, improve your strength and spend 45 minutes on your game each day."
Pitino said he used much of the workouts tinkering with different offensive and defensive looks. He tested out a lot of what he called "quick hitter" offensive sets. He looked at the defense with various personnel sets in various schemes. He said all that enables him to have the practice blueprint fine-tuned before official practices begin.
That's a luxury of having guys who know what they're doing.
"Kevin Ware is looking so much better now because he understands what he's doing," Pitino said. "So you have (Wayne) Blackshear who knows what he's doing, Chane who knows what he's doing, Gorgui, Peyton, Russ (Smith), they all know what they're doing now.
"So it's a lot of depth, the most depth we've had. But it's also the most physical talent. So they're a great group. They have the same attitude they had last year, of being humble and hungry, but they get it. So I'm able to put in certain things right now."
Pitino said he likes the competition he's seeing between Siva and Smith. He said Ware will compete with the injured Luke Hancock for time at the two-guard spot, but that for now Ware is benefiting from more time on the court, and in fact Pitino said getting to see more of Ware has been a plus. He said Ware was hampered by having to try to get up to speed so quickly in game conditions last season.
"It was one of those things like when you get a young man out of a 10-day contract, they always look great that first week. Then as you get to know them you see the blemishes and you see the warts, and it becomes a problem that he hasn't been there, even though he looks good in the beginning. It's like the pitcher who comes up from the minor leagues, the first time out the batters have a problem with him because there's no scouting report. The second time, he gets his brains knocked in. So now Ware looks much better."
He said he doesn't expect to see Hancock back at 100 percent until Nov. 1, and that he'll be brought back slowly coming off right shoulder surgery. In the meantime, Pitino said he benefits from seeing more of Ware, and Russ Smith at both guard spots.
At the small forward spot, Pitino said he expects to see Blackshear and Hancock compete.
"Wayne's playing terrific," he said. "He's doing a great job. Wayne's a different type of basketball player. He's like a junkyard dog. He can score inside, he can score outside. He's got a great nose for scoring. He likes to score. And he'll play defense, he'll block shots. They're all very quick and very athletic. Kevin Ware, Peyton, Russ, even Angel (Nunez), they're very quick and athletic. And your guys up front a physical specimens."
The competition between Harrell and Behanan might be the most heated, but Pitino also said Zach Price and Dieng are pushing each other, that Nunez looks improved and that, "Stephan Van Treese comes back and knows the system and he looked good today."
While recruit Terry Rozier making it this season remains a 50-50 proposition and Hancock being sidelined will set him back a bit, Pitino clearly likes what he has seen.
"It'll be the same team in terms of attitude and style," he said. "It's just going to be a better team in terms of knowledge of the game."