LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Translation was not optional during Rick Pitino’s press conference Thursday when he outlined the University of Louisville basketball program’s trip to Puerto Rico next week.

Actually, if you’re recruiting a translator, I’d suggest getting two. (The NCAA and I would also recommend not giving players $7 to play laser tag out of season, but that’s another story.)

You had to understand Spanish to handle the opening flurry of questions for Pitino and two of his assistants that came from the Puerto Rican media. I’ll get to that later, maybe when Pitino coaches the Puerto Rico national team in an Olympic qualifier in Mexico City, starting Aug. 31.

But as this young U of L team prepares to play nine exhibition games in six days next week, the more pressing need is for somebody to translate Pitino Speak.

You understand the game. Sorting through the bursts of hyperbolic praise. Determining what Pitino is actually saying when he doesn’t directly answer a question.

Judging whether Pitino’s message is aimed for A) fans; B) the media); C) the players; D) his assistants or E) all of the above.

Pitino said a lot about his team, which returns only 17 percent of its scoring from last season and lacks a single player who averaged 5 points per game for the Cards.

Pitino also did not say a lot, if you know what I mean.

With more than 25 years of sifting through Pitino Speak, I’ll take my shot.

1. Does Pitino Want More From Quentin Snider, His Sophomore Guard?


Pitino sprinkled substantial praise on multiple players Thursday. Snider was not one of them, even though Snider played solid basketball after taking over at point guard in mid-February.

The closest Pitino moved to being warm and fuzzy about Snider was by saying that he “thinks he’s become a better shooter.”

Will Snider start in Puerto Rico?

Pitino did not say that. The only two starters that he confirmed were Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, the Cards’ two fifth-year transfers.

Has Snider become a better leader?

“No,” Pitino said.

“He’s come out of his shell. But he’s not more of a leader, no. But he’s come out of his shell. He talks a lot right now. That’s not a problem any longer.

“Quentin’s not a leader. He leads by example. He leads by playing hard.  He’s not somebody who is going to tell you, you go here, you go there or you do this, you do that. That’s something that Trey does and Mangok does.”

Has Snider’s overall game improved?

“I feel it’s about the same,” Pitino said. “I think he’s become a better shooter. He’s gotten stronger.”

Anything else?

Just this: Pitino made sure he shared a story that his son, Richard, met Trey Lewis and that Richard said this:

“I met your point guard. He acts like a 35-year-old. He’s the most mature individual I’ve seen as a college basketball player.”

“He’s right on money,” Rick Pitino said.

2. Should We Expect More Stories That The Cards’ Locker Room Was Not Fun City Last Season?


Even before this team has played a game, Pitino has compared the attitude of these guys to his 1987 Providence Final Four team, the gold standard of Pitino basketball teams for positive mental attitude.

“This is the best attitude that I’ve seen since I’ve been a coach in 40 years,” Pitino said. “The closest thing was 1987 at Providence College. That’s just not me or the coaches. Every single person that has even watched, trainers, strength coaches …

“It’s remarkable. I have not seen anything like this since 1987. It’s incredible. You guys will experience it yourselves. I’ve got guys coming up to me shaking my hand after practice, thanking me for practice. I’ve never quite seen that before in my lifetime.”

I asked Pitino how he explained it.

“A little bit of luck,” he said. “You got two fifth-year seniors that are just awesome. Mangok (Mathiang) is probably the most upbeat, positive cheerleading person around.

“Donovan Mitchell (a freshman) probably ... acts like a 35-year-old with his class and his character.

“Then you’ve got a lot of other great guys like Quentin, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel, Ryan McMahon they’re all terrific guys. Matz (Stockman) and Anas (Mahmoud) are great guys. It’s the luck of the draw so to speak. We do want to recruit good people, but I’ve never seen 13 like this.”

I’ll explain it a different way. The mojo on last season’s team was out of alignment. Four guys took nearly all the shots, played most of the minutes and did nearly all the talking.

The locker room took a major step backwards from the days of Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Stephan Van Treese.

Montrezl Harrell?  I’m convinced some teammates were afraid of him.

Terry Rozier? Hopelessly in love with his shot and playing hero ball.

Chris Jones? No comment.

Wayne Blackshear? According to what he said to the Chicago Tribune, Blackshear did not believe he was used properly by Pitino.

Time to move on.

3. Pitino Praised Jaylen Johnson During The Final Weeks Of Last Season. Is Johnson, A Sophomore Forward, Still Making Progress?

Apparently not.

When I asked Pitino about Johnson, this is what he said:

“You know, that’s probably of all the … If you asked me who was going to start today, I always give you the answer, starting really doesn’t matter. But I really couldn’t tell you who is starting. They’re all so close.

“There’s two players I can guaranteed would start  that’s Damion Lee and the other is Trey Lewis. Outside of that, I couldn’t tell you. It’s a dogfight at the power forward between Mangok (Mathiang), Jaylen and Ray Spalding.

“The wing players will probably be Damion Lee but Deng Adel is giving him all that he can handle

“Donovan (Mitchell’s) been playing awesome. I don’t know who is going to play where. Deng Adel’s the strongest guy on the team. That surprises me.”

The answer also surprised me because it didn’t answer the question about Johnson’s improvement.

My sidekicks Eric Crawford and Tom Lane are traveling to Puerto Rico with the Cards next week. I recommend they take a translator.

Actually, make it two.

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