Louisville, Ky. (WDRB) – The Louisville Cardinals have four away games remaining on the regular season schedule before heading into the American Athletic Conference tournament in March. The raucousness of the crowds at Temple, Cincinnati, Memphis and SMU will most likely be no match for the jeering the Cardinals heard at Kentucky or from those Mountaineers fans from years past in Morgantown.
"Fans can be very abusive today," said U of L head coach Rick Pitino. "Each year I've been in this business, it gets worse and worse."
Pitino has been coaching for nearly four decades. He was lambasted in Lexington in 2001 in his first game there as head coach of the Cardinals. In 2010, fans at West Virginia chanted "Karen Sypher" at least 10 different times (according to an AP count) when the Cardinals visited shortly after the gory details of that situation was made public. The chants were so loud, WVU coach Bob Huggins motioned for the students to keep it down.
Coaches hear it. Players hear it. The key is how to deal with it.
Asked if he's developed a thick skin over the years of hearing the chants and jeers, Pitino claimed, "What I've been through in the past four of five years (and heard) what's been yelled at me…I'm a rhinoceros."
The players have to develop that rhino skin, or at least find a way to handle it. Pitino advises his players to turn the other cheek when the chants start pouring down on the court.
"You get the victory and that's your solace. I said if you get the loss, it hurts. You just walk out," he says.
The discussion on the subject emerged from a reporter asking Pitino about the recent Marcus Smart incident. Pitino says he doesn't worry about U of L fans verbally attacking a player to the point the player lashes out.
"The greatest thing about Louisville? It's a visiting team's dream," says Pitino. "When they announce the coach (at the KFC Yum! Center), everybody claps. Our fans aren't worried about the other team's coach or the starting lineup, they're worried about their next Maker's Mark," he joked.
The tough road crowds, like those at Rupp Arena (which Pitino calls one of the most dominant home court advantage in all of college basketball), will benefit the Cardinals when they face a different geography of enemy territory when Louisville moves into the ACC.
"We've heard every student body chant imaginable, so I don't think it's going to be any worse (than what we've already heard)," he says.
No doubt the fans at Duke, UNC and others are already orchestrating a welcome to U of L later this year.