LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Rick Pitino said after the University of Louisville's 67-51 win over Cincinnati Monday night that he expects junior center Gorgui Dieng to walk through Senior Night festivities at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday.
Dieng himself was far less committal: "I don't know," the 6-11 native of Senegal said when asked.
But it goes deeper than that. Dieng also said, "I don't care."
"I couldn't care less about stuff like that," Dieng said. "I'm not worried about Senior Night or all the stuff outside the court."
A couple of weeks ago, I asked Dieng about the NBA and he said that he still considers himself a student-athlete, that he is on a four-year scholarship, and that he's not looking to "jump ahead of anything." At the same time, he said he would talk to Pitino about it at the end of the season and make a decision.
After Pitino said Monday that he expects Dieng will go through Senior Night festivities, a number of U of L fans took to social media and postgame radio to ask whether Pitino is "pushing Dieng out the door."
I've spent some time around both men, and they're an interesting pair. The level of mutual respect is extremely high.
Here's how high the regard is that Pitino holds for Dieng. I'm working with Pitino on his most recent book project. In general, we'll take a chapter, I'll sit with Pitino while he discusses it, try to get his thoughts and words as best I can, then try to build the chapter and we revise and revise from there.
Last week, we reached a topic and after talking for a while, Pitino said, "I want to get what Gorgui thinks on this."
He got Dieng on his cell phone and within minutes, the player wandered into the office, and for the next 15 or 20 minutes, gave his thoughts on the topic, his impressions of Americans, the things in Africa that shaped his mindset.
In that moment, it wasn't like Pitino was conferring with a player. It was as if he was getting the opinion of someone he respects.
Dieng is extremely intelligent, and he's very perceptive. He's also, as a product of his upbringing, extremely respectful and deferential to elders, coaches, professors and the like.
What Pitino says will carry inordinate weight with Dieng. But he's smart enough to see the landscape. He has some family ties within the NBA's Basketball Without Borders organization. He sees the draft landscape.
I sat at the end of a row of NBA scouts when the Cardinals beat DePaul last Wednesday night. Dieng was a major reason they were there. Can he climb into the first round? Is there enough upside?
With Dieng having just turned 23 years old and, according to some draft analysts, approaching the first round, Pitino thinks he needs to jump at the opportunity -- but only if he's a first-rounder.
Dieng broke his wrist early this season. The injury to Nerlens Noel of Kentucky is yet another reminder of the stakes involved.
"If he is a first-round draft pick, then he will go," Pitino said Monday night. "He will not sign an agent, but he will come out. He has given us more than we have asked for. It is in his best interest to come out, and I think he is ready. I think somebody is going to get very lucky with a special basketball player with tremendous growth. He has been great for us. I have enjoyed coaching him so much. It is going to be a very difficult Senior Night. I have had some difficult ones, but this may be the most difficult."
Pitino doesn't really gain anything by Dieng leaving. He'd be a dominant player as a college senior. And Pitino has the roster space and loves coaching Dieng. He likes him so much he named a horse after him.
But Dieng, quite frankly, falls into the same situation as Francisco Garcia, who was old for his college class, and whom Pitino urged to move on for financial and professional reasons. For Garcia, it wound up being the right move. He's still in the NBA, and has made $22.3 million in seven NBA seasons, plus $6.1 million this season and a scheduled $6.4 million next season.
Dieng and Pitino both are smart guys who are capable of seeing the signs and coming to decisions. Pitino says he'll advise Dieng to leave only if he's a first-round draft pick, but he's making no effort to conceal that he thinks Dieng should be, that he's only in his sixth full of competitive basketball and has great professional upside. Dieng will give great weight to what Pitino tells him to do, but he's very much his own person with regard to these things. He values things differently than most people, particularly in this country.
Pitino is trying to position Dieng to have a first-round opportunity. Dieng is doing the same thing -- in his own way.
"I'm just trying to focus on the next game," Dieng said. "That's all I'm gonna think about. That's all that matters right now."