LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Rick Pitino talked about a little of everything in a year-end news conference that ran for more than 30 minutes at the Yum! Center practice facility on campus Monday. Here's a transcript of that session, which included reflections on the season that just ended, the upcoming Final Four, the makeup of next year's team, going into the ACC and more.
It began with this opening statement:
This was a very exciting season. The NCAA Tournament, every year I'm in it, I think it gets more and more exciting. Maybe the coverage is more extensive, and the replays, but every, single game just blows me away. The Wisconsin game was incredible. The Kentucky game was amazing. The Connecticut game was unbelievable. What goes on in college basketball, it's by far the greatest month of any sporting event, because no one has any clue as to who is going to win. Now it is a game of match ups, that's why we played so well against Connecticut this year. And it'll be very, very interesting, because the two teams I think could win it all could face each other for a fourth time. So it's going to be very exciting to see. Kudos to Kentucky and Florida and Wisconsin. It was very nice to see Bo Ryan get there. I didn't realize he hadn't been there before. For a guy who's paid his dues so long, to get there is an unbelievable time for him, and Wisconsin. Certainly Connecticut, they got to the Garden, and we know what it's like to go against Syracuse in the Garden, and going against UConn is the same way. So congratulations to all four of those teams.
I was real pleased with this year. What you hope as a coach is that the players play up to their potential. And our team, all season long, played up to their potential, took no one lightly, respected everyone, and played their butts off for every possession of the season. I was very pleased with that, very excited with winning a regular-season championship and a tournament championship, and certainly going to a Sweet 16 and playing a great game against Kentucky. But Kentucky causes major problems for any team on the backboard, as you all know, and Wisconsin is plus 1.3 on the backboard, so they've got a tall task ahead. What they do so well is they put you in isolated pick-and-roll situations, with 6-5 guards who go down the lane, and if you help then you see guys like Marcus Lee come in and dunk the ball. It's a challenge guarding them on pick-and-rolls and keeping them off the glass, and then the other thing is they shoot he ball great and shoot free throws great. So it's going to be very exciting, going to be a great Final Four.
As far as our future is concerned, with Montrezl Harrell, everybody's coming out now, we wait to see what nine players come out from Kentucky, so Kentucky's roster changes the draft quite a bit. So my advice to Montrezl is just relax, enjoy the two years you've had here, sit back and see what happens. The most important thing is, if he slips into the 20s, he's going to be drafted by a good team. If you're drafted by a good team you don't play that much, if you don't play that much, you don't get any statistical things to get to your next contract. And that's the short version of what I said to him. Now if he is drafted from 10 to 16 or 17, then obviously is something he'll consider strongly. But if you go into the latter part of the draft and you're going to sit behind somebody, you're better off coming back and trying to be a top 6, 7 player in the next draft.
Q: What's your best guess with him?
A: I think he's improved so much. The NBA is, everything with them is about measurements. And the one thing you keep hearing about is length, length with guards, length with everyone. It's almost become like football, like a combine. It's gotten that detailed. It's money ball. It's all those details. Certainly, his measurements are very good in all those areas. To be honest with you, we're going to be very good with or without him. Now we'll be much better with him, because we'll be older and more experienced. But we're still going to be very good, because our backcourt is good, and our frontcourt will improve. Now we have a lot of unanswered questions with the bigs we have coming in, and we'll play the toughest schedule we've had. Now, we played the No. 1 or No. 2 schedule when we were in the Big East. I think this will beat that. I don't know how you can beat No. 1, but I think this could be the toughest schedule we've ever played coming up this year.
Q: How do you feel about going into the ACC?
A: I know Duke and Carolina. Certainly I was very impressed with Virginia this year. But I don't know teams like Clemson and Florida State — I'll get a look at Florida State tomorrow (when he attends the NIT to watch his son Richard's Minnesota team), but there's a lot of teams in that conference I don't know, like Virginia Tech. Now they got somebody that I really like as a basketball coach. That was a great hire for them, with Buzz (Williams). So, like the Big East, where you had dynamite coaches, that's what you've got. Anytime you're in a league with Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Miami will be back, and teams like that, it's going to be unbelievable. It's great for the fans.
But when you look back on the season, and you all, you're judged on how you report, for today, or for the weekend. We're judged on getting our team ready for March. What I witnessed this year, you know I coined that phrase a few years ago "the microwave society," it's times ten today. All of a sudden, I flip on something, maybe ESPN, and read something that the coach of Vanderbilt as he's going into play Tennessee is defending a coach because he's hearing rumblings about Tennessee making a move, and now everybody's after him just six weeks later. And then you all asked me just two weeks ago because he wasn't happy or wasn't having the success that you wanted, the Kentucky grads in this room who asked that question, so it all changes overnight. And all of a sudden, I think it was Ohio State, wins 19 in a row, Syracuse wins 25 in a row, and they're not factors in the tournament. And you'd think Connecticut had no shot, and here they are. That's what makes this thing the greatest game of all. You can probably line them up in football and tell by the size and so forth who is going to win, but in basketball you can't do that, and it's been a blast watching this whole thing evolve.
Q: Do you expect any other transfers?
A: We might take a fifth-year guy. You mean in our program? No.
Q: And on the assistant coaching front?
A: I won't move quick on this one, at all. I'll take my time. We're going to have a very young team so I want to get a very good teacher. Kevin Keatts impacted our program in a very big way. He has grown a lot and gone from being a prep school coach to I think one of the premier assistants in a very short period of time. I think he'll do a great job at UNC-Wilmington, getting them back on their feet. I know Mike Balado is up for a head-coaching job right now and being considered very strongly, in the final three. So I'm just going to take my time, and with us being so young, I want to make sure we get the right guy.
Q: What about Mangok? I thought he looked good against Kentucky.
A: He looked terrific. He's going to have the same improvement Gorgui had. He'll shoot the ball better, dribble the ball better, pass the ball better. He's made substantial improvement. The only player I've had that hasn't had substantial improvement is Wayne Blackshear. And if you ask me to rate him on a 10-star scale as a person, I'd give you an 11. But I told Wayne yesterday you need to get yourself in this game. Now he'll show up for practice and give you 100 percent. But that's not what our players do here. The Luke Hancocks, the Russ Smiths, the Gorgui Diengs, they get in early, they stay late, they come after, they come in at nighttime, and you're not doing that. So we've got to turn over a whole new leaf, and I told him I want him to text me every day what he has put into each day. Because he's got to, for his own sake, understand that the world will pass him by if he doesn't live in that gym. And he's a great kid. He deserves a great senior year. And I tried to use, I told him Wayne, I've seen it all. I've seen a young man come in here, and I thought I made a big mistake, he wasn't this level. Sophomore year I saw a little improvement. He's not big enough, doesn't handle the ball well enough. Then he started changing his body, changing his game, and senior year, on Senior Night, I see them all chanting his name, "Larry," while he's scoring 30 points. I'm hoping that Wayne has the same senior year that Larry O'Bannon had.
Q: How important is he?
A: Well, if he's not, Shaquaan Aaron is going to come in here and bust his tail. I'll tell you that right now, because that young man can flat out play.
Q: With (Kevin) Ware, any restrictions on where he can transfer?
A: No, not at all. Kevin is a very big part of our family. He wants to go closer to home. He's had a tough go with his leg. Tried to make a comeback twice. Now, finally, in the last three weeks he's 100 percent healthy. Now he wants to be closer to his home, to his mom, to his sisters, they've gone through some tough times, he wants to get back closer to home, and he has our full blessing.
Q: Are you optimistic about next season, even though you lose some key people?
A: You know, I think we've got something in place that's special right now. If your backcourt's not strong -- you look at Connecticut right now, their backcourt is strong, and their other guys like Giffey and Daniels got better, and their big kid got better, and that's what you look for. If your backcourt is strong, then you're good, and I fully expect our backcourt to be strong. Anton Gill is a lot better player than you know because he's playing behind Russ Smith and Terry, and he'll blossom. And I don't know what to expect from the freshman class. We have great size coming in. With Chinanu, I know he's going to be a very physical basketball player. But we've got to get him in great shape. Jalen Johnson you'll be very impressed with. You'll see his skills. He'll dribble the ball up the court like Antoine Walker. But he's got to get stronger. What I really don't know what I'm getting is from the two really big guys. I have no idea what I'm getting.
Q: How do you light a fire under somebody like Wayne? Is it the same as with Russ or Peyton?
A: With Russ, he's going to give you -- he's a gym rat. Wayne has got to become a gym rat right now. He's willing to do it. I asked him what he thinks about the future and he joked around that he's on a one-day contract and doesn't think about the future. I said, "It's time for you to get on a six-month contract." I think it's time for him to start really getting serious about this. He's enjoyed college, he really has. And he's a terrific young man. But it's his time now. He's a senior. It's his time to let the cream rise. And I believe he can do it.
Q: You've been blessed with tremendous leadership the past few years. Who do you think the leaders will be next season?
A: I think it'll be by committee. I think Wayne, Montrezl would've been the natural guy, but he leads by intimidation. So he'll be the natural one if he comes back. So Wayne, Chris and Terry. Chris has come a long way as a person. He's one of the most enjoyable guys away from the lines. Between the lines, he's very emotional at times and you've got to get him to control his emotions because he's one of the fiercest competitors I've seen. But you know he struggled -- Russ struggled in the last game with his free throws and he would've been the last guy I would've guessed -- but Chris struggled with them early in the year and he wound up shooting 77 percent. Sometimes guys like Montrezl are difficult from the foul line because his hands are so big, but he developed a nice touch. But it'll be by committee, and it all depends on what happens to Montrezl at this point.
Q: Is Chris okay, he took a hard fall the other night?
A: Yeah he's okay, I think he had his finger x-rayed. He's going to be great, he'll be in much better shape next year, and I think you'll see great growth with him. Terry (Rozier) had an average year for a freshman, but I think he'll have a very good sophomore season. And then of course, you never know with the other guys. Anton Gill, you don't know because you don't see it in practice. Akoy Agau, has very good talent, very good ability, he just was intimidated every day by Montrezl Harrell. He'll blossom getting away from Montrezl if Montrezl leads. If Montrezl stays he'll probably commit suicide.
Q: Stephan improved so much, losing a guy like him, and like Luke, this was a special group, wasn't it?
A: It was really special. You guys don't understand, if I believe this. If Luke Hancock was a little better defensively, I think he would have a great pro career. And I think he could do that. But like that baseline drive, he goes up and dunks it, you don't understand what a good athlete he is. You look at him because he's methodical with his moves, and I'll have a meeting coming up with him shortly to see what his future holds. He'll probably give the NBA a shot. My advice to him was don't go to Europe. Go into business here in Louisville. Go prosper. But he should give the NBA a shot.
Q: Does Stephan have a shot overseas do you think?
A: You know, I would say the same thing to Stephan, the thing about overseas, the only reason you go over there is like Larry O'Bannon, to accumulate wealth. Larry O'Bannon has, I don't want to give away his bank account, but he has great wealth. He's done it the right way. You knew he was going to go over there, save everything. But there are very few Larry O'Bannons, that are disciplined enough to go over there, save your money, so that someday you can have wealth. That's the only reason you go over there. But once you go over there, every year you're there, you're out of sight, out of mind, and it doesn't nurture your business career. And that's what you have to think of. If you're going over there to make $60,000, $70,000 or $10,000 a month, it's not worth it. You're better of trying to get started in business.
Q: Do you think Russ will get drafted in the first round?
A: I don't.
Q: You don't?
A: No. Now, it all depends on his workouts. I think Russ will make the NBA. My advice is don't be concerned about the first round. Don't be disappointed. Now if he has great workouts, maybe he can sneak into the late stages of the first. Today it's going to be announced that he's a consensus All-American. And he could sneak into the first round. But just look, everybody looks for bigs today. (Evan) Gordon just came out. And even though a lot of the experts like Jerry West say it's not a great draft, it's a very deep draft, with a lot of unknowns. It's going to be difficult to see who you pick No. 1. You might be able to see who No. 1, 2 or 3 is, but the best guy might be 7, 8 or 9. So it will be interesting to see.
Q: Who would you pick No. 1?
A: It all depends on what team I was coaching. If Philadelphia gets the ball, on what they need, you look at Jabari Parker, you look at Julius Randle. You look at Joel Embid if you need a center.
Q: Will you get the young guys in early like you usually do?
A: Yes. It won't be the first semester of summer school. But we're going to work out today, then give the guys a few days off. And when they come in this summer we'll know more. The biggest thing for guys like Chinanu and our other bigs is getting into some kind of physical shape. That's the biggest adjustment for all of those guys. It won't be for Shaquaan. Quentin Snyder will have a big adjustment defensively, but not offensively.
Q: Where will Quentin fit with the guys you have?
A: I don't know. I'd be guessing. The one thing about freshmen, right now I look at the savvy and what they do in high school. But you can't judge what you see in high school. When we start to work with them this summer we'll have a better idea.
Q: You mentioned not being sure with those two ultra-bigs. How anxious are you to get those guys on practice.
A: It'll be interesting to have a couple of 7-foot guys in practice. I've never had that before.
Q: With the diversity, will you need a translator too?
A: No they all speak very good English, actually. I'm not sure about our big guy from Norway if he's as good English-wise. He has a different kind of game. You saw us run a lot more high-post stuff like David Padgett did as a surprise in the Kentucky game, he really understands that game, and how to play the game there. He's just going to be a project.
Q: Will that be a focus for the new assistant, helping you work all that together.
A: Yeah, like I said it's, with the youth on our team, the most important aspect is going to be teaching ability. I have someone in mind, I don't know if I can talk him out of what he's doing now. I don't think we have to worry too much about recruiting right now. We only need two players for next year. I want to bring in a guy who can help me teach what these guys need to learn.
Q: Does that mean a veteran guy?
A: Yes. Somebody I know very well, I have in mind. Has the same color hair as Rick (Bozich).
Q: You talk about Jalen, is he the most important guy early?
A: Yeah, but he's young now. But he's very gifted. This is a top-five recruiting class. But I'm guessing as well as you. Some freshmen get it right away and some don't.
Q: Going into the fifth year rule, do you like that rule first of all, and what do you look for in a transfer like that?
A: It's going to have to be somebody who fits with how we play the game. Look, we don't want to stop this run we're on. I had this run once before, and I don't want it to stop. The biggest concern is not my team. The biggest concern is getting them ready for that schedule. Our first game is with Minnesota, who has every player back, should be top five in the country, um, (laughter), then you have Indiana in the Garden. You've got Western (Kentucky) in Diddle with their whole team back. You've got Kentucky at home. And then you have, does every team play in the ACC-Big Ten? You should see since we've already played Minnesota if you can get us out of that (to Kenny Klein). So it'll be a tough schedule. We've said this many years ago, Howard Garfinkel told me this when I took over at BU, said, "Take a young team, put them on the road against good competition, and they'll become a very good team at the end of the year." So we're going to take a young team and put them through some tough games and hope to be good at the end of the year.
Q: John Calipari talked about these tweaks. You played them in December and then in March. Did you see anything they were doing differently, strategically?
A: I'm sure he did tweak it. I think he tries to put a motivational spin on his team, that now we've corrected things. And they have become a great team. A great team. I mean, those kids can flat-out shoot the basketball. They have great size at every position. And you don't realize how good a player like Poythress is coming in off the bench until you see what he's capable of doing. I'm sure everybody was caught off-guard by Marcus Lee to do that. The most impressive thing was that cross-over move he made down the lane. The dunks, everybody could do that. Wisconsin is very difficult to play against, but they're only plus-one on the glass. It's going to be a tough matchup for both of those teams defensively, but Kentucky has grown in so many areas, because we played a great game and they beat us. That's about as well as we've played, with the exception of our free throws.
Q: You kind of indicated, you like Florida and Kentucky in the finals?
A: I think that, Florida played Connecticut and lost at the buzzer at Connecticut. I think Florida will obviously look at a lot of tape and, anything can happen with Napier in the game. They can beat anybody. If he has a great night and makes people better and does his thing, he can control the tempo of a game. So when you have that type of guard, that's a Kemba Walker-type guard, anything can happen. But I'm extremely biased. I have my sixth son coaching (Florida's) team, so you know who I'm rooting for, obviously. In the other game, it's a game of contrasting styles. I'm not sure if -- the way Kentucky's playing right now, they're awfully tough. Awfully tough. You've got to keep them off the backboard.
Q: How do you do that?
A: Well, you've got to stop rotating. And that's the problem. You come off the pick-and-roll, and those Harrison kids are not only playing great -- but I loved them into high school and I didn't think they were great the first half of the season, but they've evolved into great college basketball players -- they go down the lane and if you don't help, they're going to overpower you with their size and length. If you do help, that's when the aircraft carriers come in for the rebound. So it's a dilemma. The way Michigan tried to beat them, they tried to outshoot them. It almost worked, but didn't work.
Q: On Mangok, when did he start to move forward in practice?
A: Mangok's a very aggressive person. If you talked to him, you wouldn't think that. But on the court he is, very aggressive by nature. He's going to get great competition this year in our practices. He went against Stephan Van Treese a lot, which made him very physical. Akoy was like T-Will with Kyle Kuric. It made Kyle Kuric a good player, but you felt sorry for Kyle every day because of what T-Will did to him. Mangok got a lot from Stephan because if you weren't aggressive, Stephan would embarrass you with his aggression. And Akoy with Mangok. So he's going to grow. I think this basketball team, if you look on paper you're not going to be very impressed, but I'm very bullish on them, because they have great pride. Chris Jones and Terry Rozier have great pride in what they do. We've just got to get Wayne handling the ball better. He's got to be what I call a bully wing. He doesn't just get the ball and take a three-point shot. If you get up on him, he bullies you to the basket and gets in there and gets fouled. The one thing about Russ Smith that people don't realize why he was so great, look how many times he gets to the line. Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, especially Terry, they have to improve that. They don't get to the line, because they play East and West, and great guards play North and South. So that's what we're going to be working on with those two guards.
I want to thank all of you for your coverage. I really enjoy our weekly press conferences. I've probably laughed more in the last three years than I ever have at press conferences, and I intend on laughing a lot more in the years to come. It's been great, been a great three years, I'm really proud of this senior class, proud of the team, proud of Louisville basketball. We've got one more thing to accomplish before this year comes to an end, to get our women back to another Final Four. I'd certainly be there rooting them on Tuesday if my son wouldn't disown me, but I hope our Cardinal fans will get behind them. Jeff Walz has done a tremendous job coaching them, one of the best in the game, we're very lucky to have Jeff and I hope we get to another Final Four with them. If anybody's going to New York (for the NIT) I'll see you there.
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