CRAWFORD | Fellow coaches decline to carve up Pitino at ACC's 'O - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Fellow coaches decline to carve up Pitino at ACC's 'Operation Basketball'

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Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim speaks at ACC media day. He said he'll call Louisville's Rick Pitino, "but not right now." (AP image) Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim speaks at ACC media day. He said he'll call Louisville's Rick Pitino, "but not right now." (AP image)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WDRB) — A few thoughts from the end of ACC Media Day, or as the league dubbed it, Operation Basketball.

I thought Rick Pitino’s absence from the event would be a big deal. Instead, as the coaches took the podium for television interviews one by one, none were even asked about it. Perhaps I should’ve asked, and I could have, and then could have written a story about how all the coaches were talking about it. But then I would’ve manufactured the story. So I sat back to see if the topic came up on its own.

Except for dominating the Q&A sessions for Louisville players Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, it really didn’t.

At any rate, I criticized U of L for not having Pitino go, got heckled for it all the way into the football game at Louisville Saturday (thanks for reading, folks), and I do believe it was the school’s legal counsel that compelled him not to go, especially after his comments about Andre McGee on Tuesday. I still feel the decision was wrong, for several reasons. But perhaps I should be criticizing the Louisville media, also. Their counsel must have advised them to stay home too, as Tom Lane, Courier-Journal reporter Jeff Greer and I were the only Louisville media there.

At any rate, there was some talk about Pitino by coaches, but the only real venom came from the media.

Jim Boeheim, who went through an academic scandal last season and now is facing an NCAA-mandated complete 25-day absence from his team, said he would call Pitino at some point, “but not right now.” He said he didn’t plan on giving him any advice.

“I’ll just talk to him as a friend,” Boeheim said. “He’s smart. he knows what he has to do.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he had no problem with Pitino’s absence, even if he did sit through a difficult day of questions about North Carolina’s academic scandal a year ago.

"I know that last year was hard for me,” Williams told ESPN. “I was very disappointed at the end of the day because all I did was answer questions about things I was not involved in. But on Rick's behalf, he's got an attorney who is telling him he shouldn't do it. And so I'm not condemning him by any means because every situation is different. Jimmy Boeheim's situation is different. Roy Williams' situation is different."

ACC commissioner John Swofford said the league told U of L that the conference’s “strong preference” was that Pitino be at media day, but that, “we did not feel it appropriate to try and stand in the way and negate legal counsel’s advice that was given to the University of Louisville.”

Lewis and Lee got the brunt of the questioning by far, but they handled themselves gracefully.

They absolutely didn’t deserve an ESPN headline that read, “Louisville’s Trey Lewis, Damion Lee try to avoid discussing allegations.” The story itself repeated the absurdity that the players, “did their best to avoid discussing allegations.”

That’s trying to fit reality into a pre-determined idea. Lee estimated that “about 50 percent” of the questions he fielded were about the allegations. Lewis said that sounded about right. 

You wonder how ESPN can say that, then CBS, of the same media day, say, “Lewis and Lee, to their credit, handled the situation like champs. Both players were calm and composed, taking question after question about the Louisville sex scandal and offering their best answers.”

If the questions weren’t about how the team is handling the negative publicity, they were about their coach, his absence, and his demeanor with them.

“He's not one to bite his tongue,” Lewis said. “And he knows if he was here, he speaks his mind and speaks from his heart. He was advised not to be here because he couldn't speak about these matters, but he wants to talk."

Media reaction to Pitino’s absence was predictably strong. That’s the price of not coming. The Chattanooga Times Free Press said “Rick Pitino should miss more than ACC’s media day.” The Washington Post has called for his firing and/or resignation. The Greenville news opined, “Pitino’s absence is the weakest play he’s ever called.” Paul Woody of the Richmond Times-Dispatch said Swofford’s confidence in U of L’s leadership to deal with the problems is misplaced.

Lewis said Pitino shows no signs of worrying about such criticism.

"You've seen the attacks he gets in the media," Lewis said, "but, you know, if coach is ever bothered by this, he does a great job of hiding it because we can't tell. I worry about him all the time. I pray for him all the time. But he handles this very well. He comes in fired up every day. It seems like he's more fired up now."

JURICH SPEAKS WITH LOUISVILLE PLAYERS: Both Lee and Lewis said that Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich gave them a clear message as regards Rick Pitino.

“He told us, ‘Your coach isn’t going anywhere,’” Lee said.

Said Lewis: “He explained to us that Coach Pitino is going to be our coach. Coach has come in very confident saying that he's going to be here for a long time. So I have no worries about that. None of the players have any worries about that."

LEE NOT WORRIED ABOUT SELF-IMPOSED POSTSEASON BAN: A year ago, Syracuse avoided the inevitable and declared itself ineligible for the postseason before the season was even ever. It lets schools get a head-start on any self-imposed penalties, but it should absolutely be out of bounds for schools, who began the season in pursuit of an NCAA Tournament bid, to pull the plug on it midway.

Fair warning. If U of L tries this, I’ll be against it in any way. Not that it will make any real difference. Regardless, Lee said he’s not worried about such an eventuality.

“If something like that happens, it happens," Lee said. "That's something I have no control over. All I have to do is make sure that I keep these guys in positive spirits. If something like that happens, so be it. Maybe it wasn't meant for me to play in the tournament. But that doesn't mean that my basketball career ends there.”

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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