CRAWFORD | Nine things Pitino wants you to know before Louisvill - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Nine things Pitino wants you to know before Louisville faces Miami

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino met the media Friday afternoon in a wide-ranging discussion. His team faces Miami at 2 p.m. Saturday in the KFC Yum! Center.

Pitino covered a lot of ground. Here are some of the highlights.

1. THIS IS A BIG GAME. The first three double-byes for the ACC Tournament look to be comfortably in the hands of Virginia, Notre Dame and Duke. After that, Louisville and North Carolina are tied for the inside track to the fourth spot. Miami is one game behind them.

The Cardinals have missed a couple of opportunities to put some distance between themselves and North Carolina. Now, Pitino says, they need to win just to keep themselves in that hunt.

“There are a lot of big games that come into play when you're in a league like the ACC, but by far this game has the most significance to us at this time,” he said. “It's probably the most important game that's come in here this year with more significance than just an outstanding opponent. Because if you look at the standings, if our goal is to finish in the top four and get a double bye, we (rank) with three other teams, including Miami, record-wise. So we need a win desperately at this point. There's a lot at stake for both teams and certainly we need a very loud, very enthusiastic crowd, we need great defense from our team, need a lot of emotion tomorrow afternoon.”

2. CHRIS JONES IS BACK, AND IS A GOOD PERSON. Pitino told WDRB Thursday that Jones had taken care of the issues he needed to address off the court. He expects him to return against Miami, though he won't start.

“Chris Jones is a great kid,” Pitino said. “You may not see it because his body language is not always the best. When he comes to the bench, he doesn't want to get taken out, ever. He wants to play all 40 minutes. I can't get him to smile on the bench. I can get him to play hard, so that's enough for me. But I can't get him to come out and hand the towel to the guy and be happy about coming out, even though he has to understand, other people like to play. So that's one thing you've got to look for. . . . The problem is, and you've got to live with it, is just what I mentioned earlier. If he comes out of the game, you know, I'm not his best friend anymore. As long as I keep him in the game, he loves me.”

People are looking hard at Jones' demeanor, Pitino acknowledged. He said a woman in a restaurant came up and asked him whether Jones was mad at him for benching him against Pittsburgh.

“I said, ‘I really don't care, ma'am.'” Pitino said he answered back. “And she said, ‘Well is he?' I said, I don't think he is. I think he understood that he wasn't playing well, it's quite obvious if he watches tape. And I said, ‘Well why do you ask that?' And she said, ‘Because he didn't hug you when they announced his name.' I said, ‘He has a different act. He hugs me before he goes out. You need to watch that and pay attention.' She looked at me and, I said, ‘Really, you don't have to worry about the hugs before the game. It's not going to be a major factor in the game.'”

3. FANS SHOULD NOT PANIC. Pitino said fans hitting the panic button need take a look back, rather than forward.

“Probably the ones that don't study history panic,” Pitino said. “The ones that understand the game, understand the way we are, because you can pick out losing streaks every season. I showed my wife, here's the record I thought we'd have at this point, and based on six weeks of practice I had it exactly right at 20-6 except I had the games wrong with the wins and losses. You sort of think where your bumps in the road are going to be. I didn't expect it to be North Carolina State at home, let's just say that. I'm happy with the record.”

4. THESE AREN'T “TOUGH TIMES.” When asked if the kind of tough times the Cardinals are facing now help to bring the team closer together, Pitino went in a different direction.

“I think if you spoke to Billy Donovan right now, or my son, you'd find out what tough times are,” he said. “It's almost like, somebody worth millions of dollars, and they lose $100,000 in the stock market, and say, ‘Boy I had a really tough day.' So I wouldn't say we have tough times right now.”

5. WAYNE BLACKSHEAR DOMINATES IN PRACTICE. That's what he said. Pitino likened Blackshear to Peyton Siva in that he hasn't had a breakout type of year, but is playing so well in practices that he feels like it's just around the corner.

“Wayne's playing great basketball,” Pitino said. “And I don't base it just on the games, he's playing great in practice, I mean great. He's doing things I haven't seen him do before -- taking off and dunking on people, getting fouled. But when he gets in foul trouble, he gets stressed, and I'm afraid to let him get in foul trouble in that type of game.”

Beyond the fouls, Pitino said Blackshear does at times have problems getting into “the flow” of some games.

6. DON'T EXPECT A PLAYERS-ONLY MEETING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Pitino didn't say whether players had met as a group as Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell had speculated they would after the Syracuse loss, he did say that the results of such meetings are usually temporary.

“I'm going to tell you something about players-only meetings and coaches meetings,” he said. “Nothing ever comes out of it. It really doesn't. It's always short-lived. I've been through hundreds of player meetings in the pros, hundreds of meetings in college, it lasts for two days, sometimes a week, max. Nothing ever comes out of it. We had a great meeting the other day, about the veterans and freshmen talking, each got up and talked about what we need to do better and how they can do better and you've got to mature in this area. For two days it was much better, then they reverted back. It's all about execution in this game.”

7. THE TEAM'S BIGGEST DEFENSIVE PROBLEM IS BALL CONTAINMENT. There are problems on rotations from young players still not understanding their roles in help defense. But more of an issue is containing drivers to the basket.

“We played a good game against Syracuse,” he said. “Our problem defensively is about 5-6 plays a game our players don't understand what we're trying to do in our scheme, we make mistakes and we give up a layup because we're in the wrong place. Those things we can fix. It's inexperience coming from some of the freshmen. But our number one problem is ball containment on straight-line drives. It forces rotation by your bigs, it gets them in foul trouble. It's our young players making those mistakes and we're trying to work on it. But anytime you play young guys they get beat a lot defensively.

8. HE'S PLEASED WITH ONUAKU, MAHMOUD AND SNIDER. While the freshmen aren't making headlines, Pitino said he is happy with the progress of many of them.

“Nanu (Onuaku) is really getting better,” Pitino said. “He's improving. I think it's obvious to notice how well he outlets the ball. He's getting more confidence in his offense, he's posting up. They're finally throwing him the ball. He's always posted up hard, but young bigs have a difficult time catching the ball, so they're gaining more confidence in him, getting more confidence in Anas (Mahmoud). Both of those guys are really improving as the season goes along.”

As for Snider, who earned a start and responded with 13 points and four rebounds against Syracuse, Pitino was particularly pleased.

“If you want to have a silver lining in the cloud of that game, it was the fact that I saw what Quentin Snider could do,” Pitino said. “He showed unbelievable offensive maturity. All of us were kind of taken back by that a little bit, at how good he was at it. We see flashes of that in practice all the time, but for a freshman to go into a game, and he hasn't started, hasn't played that much, and just boom, right away, play like he's a veteran, and not just blend in, but he said I'm going to be the best guard on this floor from an offensive standpoint, and he was terrific. And even the two shots he missed in the corner, they were big shots if we make them. He didn't shy away from the shots, and that's what I wanted most. Listen son, we need the shot, you're open, you take it. He didn't even hesitate. So I gained a lot of respect for Quentin Snider as a freshman in that game.”

9. FRESHMAN INELIGIBILITY — NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Pitino was asked about a proposal to make freshmen ineligible to play NCAA basketball, but he dismissed he idea as untenable.

His comments in full:

“Here's the reason I don't think it will never happen. It's nice conversation, but it won't happen because it costs money to run freshman teams, and as soon as you tell ADs it costs money they don't like it. And they'd have to increase the scholarships from 13 to 16 and that's more money. So it sounds great; it's not happening. 

Q: Philosophically, do you have an issue with it? 

Pitino: “I think what they're trying to do is develop more education for athletes. They want to stop the one-and-done. I think in theory, it has a lot of good things. Players mature, they understand the reason they're there, it creates discipline in their life. It humbles them a little bit so they're not the star coming in right away. So there's a lot of good things to it, but it's not going to happen.

Q: If it did happen, do you think more freshmen would go play overseas for a year?

Pitino: “I think we've got to somehow, and I don't have the answer to this, get to where the point is that you're going to college to get an education. . . . Young players need an education, they need discipline. It's not just the academic education, it's the education of being early, being energetic, being a hard worker, understanding how to communicate with your fellow students, professors. There's so much more that goes into it than just playing basketball. And so, that's what everybody wants, a total rounding into form of the young student-athlete. And how to get there is the problem, because on one side you have the NBA and the players' association which runs their union, or is a big part of the union, and the other hand you have the NCAA and what can they do to benefit. And anytime I look at something, I say, OK how much is it going to cost? It's not going to happen.”

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