CRAWFORD | After a year away, Pitino faces ACC media, with fewer - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | After a year away, Pitino faces ACC media, with fewer NCAA questions

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Rick Pitino speaks with reporters at ACC Media Day. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Rick Pitino speaks with reporters at ACC Media Day. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)
Rick Pitino speaks with reporters at ACC Media Day. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Rick Pitino speaks with reporters at ACC Media Day. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WDRB) — A year ago, University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino was the talk of ACC Media Day because he wasn’t here. The allegations against the Cardinals’ basketball program were fresh, the questions were many, and the answers were few. Trey Lewis and Damion Lee, two graduate transfers, showed up and charmed the ACC media with a bit of piano playing and freestyle rapping.

A year later, the Cardinals offered no repeat of that song and dance in Charlotte for ACC Media Day.

Pitino was back in the ACC saddle, but talk about U of L violations — recently confirmed in an NCAA Notice of Allegations released by the school — seemed to have receded. NCAA questions did come up for Pitino during his rounds of television, radio and print interviews, but they were nothing approaching the grilling Roy Williams fielded over an academic scandal that was enveloping North Carolina two years ago. He was asked about the NCAA's allegations and other issues surrounding them in an interview with ESPN's SportsCenter and during several radio row interviews.

“I’m still very disappointed in what went on,” Pitino said. “. . . Nobody’s more disappointed than me, in what happened, and where it happened. And I keep saying it over and over, I’ll never understand why it happened. That’s what makes it difficult to go to bed at night.”

Asked if he’s worried about another shoe dropping from the NCAA -- especially given that he is facing an NCAA allegation that he failed to monitor his former director of basketball operations, Andre McGee, a charge the school plans to dispute -- Pitino said, “No, because they did their investigation, very thorough, as a matter of fact. It mostly had to do with recruiting prospects. We’ve got to be accountable, and we will. We took some really harsh penalties last year. We did not get hit with lack of institutional control, which means we’re doing something right. And academically, we’ve had the highest grade-point average in three different conferences now.”

When asked about its impact on recruiting, he said, “We’re going to have our best recruiting year this year. In the last 16 years, this will be my best recruiting class. We’ve been very transparent with every mom and dad. We tell them exactly what we’ve done, and going forward your son is not going to have to be concerned with that.”

ACC commissioner John Swofford said that he hoped both Louisville and North Carolina were close to a place of being able to put their NCAA troubles behind them, but noted that he doesn’t like to see those kinds of situations, and thinks a process needs to be put in place that resolves them in a more timely way.

“You don't want those situations,'' Swofford said. "They're not healthy for anybody. If there's anything that keeps me awake at night, it's those kinds of situations. .  . Sometimes the NCAA processes go extremely slowly. I think all of us involved with the NCAA believe we must find a better way to expedite those types of things but do it in a fair and right kind of way.’'

And Swofford allowed that self-imposed sanctions should be a part of that. While not a perfect solution, he said schools should have the opportunity to make that determination.

“I think it varies as to whether that's a good idea or not a good idea, but I do think that, in my opinion, institutions should have that prerogative,'' he said. "It's their program. They should know themselves better than anybody. If programs are willing to step up and do the right thing after evaluating the situation then I think they should have the opportunity to do that. That doesn't mean the NCAA is always going to agree. They might've done less; they might've done more. But I think it is wise to that.”

For his part, Pitino said he was fine with Louisville’s self-imposed penalties, though he is second-guessing his decision to dock himself two scholarships in the same season. U of L also kept Pitino off the road for a month, and banned itself from the postseason in 2015.

“The thought was that I wanted everything that had anything to do with all of this behind us,” Pitino said. “But we don’t really have the kind of depth right now we’re used to having. Emotionally and mentally, I’m great with what we did. Physically, we could use another guard, so we are going to feel the effects of this.”

Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Snider — who represented the school at media day on Wednesday — said that the team doesn’t talk much about it anymore, though both acknowledged that they often are asked about it when they encounter fans in public.

The toughest part, Mitchell said, was sitting out the tournament.

“We had about two weeks off right after the season, and I would go work out, and instead of playing music I would listen to every game over again,” Mitchell said. “And it just added a little bit of fuel to the fire. . . . I know our fans are hungry. I look at it like a kid who didn't get a birthday present one year, you really want that present the next year.”

After a year with no postseason, even in this preseason for Louisville, the focus remains decidedly forward.

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