BOZICH | Between the jokes, Pitino talks like he expects to return to Louisville
Rick Pitino was asked about his future three times after Louisville's loss to Virginia Saturday night. After making several jokes, Pitino talked like he expected to return.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WDRB) – There was not much to laugh about during the stinging end to the abbreviated University of Louisville basketball season.
Not after the one-sided 68-46 loss U of L took from Virginia Saturday night, a loss that officially signaled it was OVER for the Cardinals this season.
But Rick Pitino tried to insert a laugh track when he was asked about his future as well as the school’s post-season ban.
The first time Pitino took the question about next season he said that he had cut a deal with Steve Kerr to replace him as the coach of the Golden State Warriors so he can coach Steph Curry for one season.
“I’m going to Golden State next year and they’re going to go back-to-back and I’m going to try to get them the three-peat,” Pitino said.
The second time Pitino was asked about making a decision on next season he said that he intended to drink “very heavily and pass out.” Pay attention, Kentucky fans. He even made a joke about Christian Laettner.
It’s healthy that Pitino has retained his sense of humor, even though U of L has admitted that the coach’s program has violated NCAA rules. The school has self-imposed a ban for the 2016 Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournaments. No more dribbling, just as the good stuff begins for everybody else.
There won’t be much laughing in the fan base when the best part of the season begins without the Cardinals this week, especially in a year when Louisville had as much reason to get excited about surviving and advancing as anybody other than Michigan State and Kansas.
Credit the Cards with a 24-6 season. They won 13 of 18 ACC games, finishing fourth, behind North Carolina, Virginia and Miami.
“This season was a roller coaster, but probably one of the greatest roller coasters I’ve been a part of,” said Donovan Mitchell, a freshman guard. “We’ve had a great season. We’ve played our behinds off the whole year.”
“When we heard that we weren’t playing in the tournament, practices have not been the same,” said guard Quentin Snider. “That’s how I felt … As the season went on, at times it was like, ‘What are we playing for?’
“But we tried to make this as our own NCAA Tournament.”
But this story was not about a game the Cards never led on a night when they made only 27.6 percent of their 58 field-goal attempts. This night was about what is going to happen next season.
Louisville fans are a passionate group who are deservedly curious about the future of their program as well as their Hall of Fame coach. Pitino was asked about his future a third time. He was slightly more specific.
Pitino confirmed one development that suggested he expected to return for his 16th season: He has elevated David Padgett, the program’s director of operations, to replace the retiring Ralph Willard as an assistant coach.
Padgett accepted congratulations from the U of L players in the locker room after the defeat. He said he planned to work on recruiting the Cards’ 2017 class in April.
Why bother with a personnel move if you plan to wait months or even weeks before deciding if you will return?
And Pitino did not deny what ESPN analyst Dick Vitale told me before the game (and Vitale repeated on the national telecast): That he intends to coach the Cardinals next season. Pitino that he appreciated the public statement of support on Friday by Larry Benz, the chairman of U of L’s board of trustees.
Remember this: There is more to this story than what Pitino, Benz, Vitale and the players want.
Neither U of L athletic director Tom Jurich nor president Dr. James Ramsey attended the game. Their opinions matter, although you do wonder how much Ramsey’s matters after several board of trustees members voiced a public lack of confidence in him last Tuesday.
The NCAA investigation is ongoing. Although U of L admitted to rule-breaking when it announced its post-season ban Feb. 5, the school has yet to receive its official letter of allegations. Nobody knows how many of the incidents involving prostitutes and strippers that Katina Powell wrote about in her book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules,” will be confirmed by U of L and NCAA officials.
Two U of L players, Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Snider, said that they expected Pitino to be their coach next season. Another player, center, Mangok Mathiang, denied a published report connecting him to a possible transfer the Nebraska, home of former U of L guard Anton Gill.
Seniors Damion Lee and Trey Lee thanked Pitino and their teammates for the opportunity to play their one season at U of L. Chinanu Onuaku, the talented sophomore center, repeated his plan to attend the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago in mid-May before he will decide on returning or becoming a professional.
But guys like Mitchell and Snider, the players who will be the leaders of the 2016-17 team, said they will return -- and expect to play for Rick Pitino.
“He loves this team,” Mitchell said. “He can’t wait to get started on next year. We just handle our business and he kept saying, ‘I can’t wait for next year.’ “
Even if it is a next year that still has plenty of blanks to fill in.
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