CRAWFORD | Amid talk of scandal, Louisville coaches and players - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Amid talk of scandal, Louisville coaches and players turn to basketball

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Louisville's Rick Pitino watches his team during Saturday's Red-White scrimmage. (AP photo by Timothy Easley) Louisville's Rick Pitino watches his team during Saturday's Red-White scrimmage. (AP photo by Timothy Easley)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — It has become a hallmark of Rick Pitino’s University of Louisville coaching tenure that he has done some of his best work amid the storm.

He coached the Cardinals to the first No. 1 ranking in school history while, unbeknownst to the public, an extortion attempt was being carried out against him. He took the Cardinals to a Final Four in 2012 after a disappointing finish to the regular season. And he somehow had the Cardinals within a made free throw of the Final Four last season after point guard Chris Jones was kicked off the team following a rape charge.

One wonders what the capacity is for Louisville fans to keep dealing with these kinds of stories. But that’s a separate issue that will have to be considered as U of L comes to grips with what did and didn’t happen in its program, following the publication of a book that alleges former staffer Andre McGee paid escorts and strippers to entertain (and have sex with) recruits and sometimes their players and even the fathers of recruits.

At the same time that investigation is ongoing, however, there’s a basketball season. And Pitino, whose refuge has been work when adversity has hit in the past, again finds himself turning to the game to cope with developments off the court.

“The best thing I can do is just immerse myself and just work, work, work until I pass out,” Pitino said Saturday after the Cardinals’ initial Red-White Scrimmage in the KFC Yum! Center. “And I’ve got to do that. So certainly, getting in these environments, just thinking basketball and watching basketball is great therapy for all of us.”

Pitino spoke with reporters for the first time since the publication of the book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen.” But the coach said he hadn’t looked at the book, and in fact said, “I’ll never look at that. You know, the name of that book was Motive for Money, and I’m not going to sink to that level. We’re going to get the truth. We’re going to find the truth. If we did something wrong, we’re going to own up to it, and we’re going to be truthful to the NCAA.”

Only one current player was mentioned in the book, Mangok Mathiang, and the writer went out of her way to say that Mathiang did not engage in sex with any of the women she allegedly brought onto campus for parties. Mathiang is sitting out with an eye issue. There is a picture in the book of Mathiang with a woman.

“If I could just tell you something. I go out with my wife to Molly Malone’s and we have a bite to eat after games,” Pitino said. “Fifty women will ask me, with their boyfriends, to take a picture. I could say, no, I don’t do pictures. But I get up, flash the L, take the picture. How many pictures you think would be out there of me on someone’s Facebook? I can be rude, or I can be polite. It takes the same amount of time. Taking pictures with girls that look like college students, there’s nothing wrong with that. Mangok did nothing wrong. So you shouldn’t even mention his name, because Mangok did nothing but take a picture. And a lot of people have taken pictures.”

Louisville players, as well as Pitino, have been instructed not to comment specifically about the allegations in the book as the school conducts its own investigation in advance of a report it will submit to the NCAA.

Mathiang said the players are aware of the news out there, but that it hasn’t had any impact on the team’s workouts or chemistry.

“It’s in none of our control,” he said. “With us, all we’re trying to focus on is the season ahead of us, the great teams we’re going to play and what kind of team we can make ourselves be. All our focus has to be on the court.”

U of L athletic director Tom Jurich returned to Louisville from Raleigh, N.C., Saturday morning after the allegations became public, and was at the KFC Yum! Center Saturday. Jurich spoke with recruits about the situation, as did Pitino.

Pitino said he’s not concerned about the fallout with recruits.

“We’ll just show them honesty,” Pitino said. “We’ll tell the truth. Like I’ve said, only one side has come out right now, and I think the truth will come out. So we’ve just got to be patient, let the investigators do their job, and move forward.”

An example of how the news cycle doesn’t exactly represent the reality for the players on the current team — while most of the discussion surrounding the program centers on these allegations, graduate transfer Damion Lee’s day centered around playing on his new home court for the first time.

He stepped out into the KFC Yum! Center for the first time and just walked around the perimeter of the court, wanting to take it all in.

“It was amazing,” Lee said. “I just wanted to do a circle and look around the whole arena, and I was just thinking, ‘Wow, this is my home now.’”

Trey Lewis played in the KFC Yum! Center last season as a visiting opponent, but experienced his first game with the home team Saturday.

“I stayed away form this place just to have the feeling that I’m having now,” Lewis said. “The last time I walked in here I was with the visiting team. This was just a really unique feeling I had walking in here, just hearing the crowd cheering for me and our guys. Let me tell you this, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now.”

This will be the challenge as the season moves forward, amid a story that won’t go away anytime soon: to focus on basketball and the present and not necessarily what the media and public are talking about.

“These players had nothing to do with any of this,” Pitino said. “It’s not their problem. Their problem is to play basketball for Louisville. You had two guys transfer to come here and learn what this is all about, to play at this level, and they’re very excited about it. You’ve got young players improving. You’ve got young guys who are very excited to be here. And we’ve got to make it, it’s my job to make them feel great about what they have. . . . We told them, it’s not your concern. I’ve been told to coach basketball and not do anything else, not get involved in this. And I’ll do that.”

Pitino did, for a moment, talk about the affect that the allegations had on him. He lives for the start of practice. It’s like Christmas Day for him. He was visibly deflated at a news conference on Friday when the allegations first surfaced, and acknowledged that.

“I spent the whole summer coaching basketball, waiting to get back to this,” Pitino said. “So, I’d be misleading you if I didn’t say the air was let out of the balloon, I was so excited to get back, then woke up one morning and this all hit. But that being said, the strong survive, the tough get tougher and it’s my job to administer spirit and positive emotion, and make sure people don’t get down. That’s my job, what I get paid for. So we’ll do that. And we’ll move forward in the right way. . . . You own up to your mistakes if you’ve made them. And that’s got to be done, and we’ll take it from there. But right now you’ve seen one side. There needs to be another side, and that needs to come out.”

CORRECTION: The original version of this story said Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich left Raleigh, N.C. late Friday night to return to Louisville after news of the alleged scandal broke. Jurich returned on Saturday morning.

Related:

Pulitzer Prize-winning co-author of 'Breaking Cardinal Rules' says he believes woman's claims

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