CRAWFORD | Back in the Dance: Louisville players stop for a minu - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Back in the Dance: Louisville players stop for a minute to enjoy the moment

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Louisville's Donovan Mitchell takes time for a selfie with a fan after yesterdays' NCAA Tournament practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Louisville's Donovan Mitchell takes time for a selfie with a fan after yesterdays' NCAA Tournament practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

INDIANAPOLIS (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville basketball team went through its shooting drills, having already held a real practice outside of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, then used the final minutes of its pre-NCAA Tournament shootaround greeting fans and taking selfies.

Rick Pitino himself toed the free-throw line to shoot with Anas Mahmoud, and tried to hit a couple of mid-court shots before players got into the act.

There are two things Pitino wants from his teams at this time of year. First, be loose. Second, be aggressive.

Add to that a No. 3: Win.

“Right now it’s all about confidence and enjoying the moment,” sophomore Donovan Mitchell said. “And this is fun. It’s an experience I’ve always wanted to have, and a lot of us haven’t had that experience.”

Pitino has had different kinds of teams in this event. He’s come in with the team viewed as the best several times. He’s won it all twice. He said his challenge with Kentucky in 1996 was keeping his team humble and grounded.

With Louisville’s 2013 champions, his goal was great defense. “I felt we had to confuse people,” he said.

This group, he said, is different from any of his others.

“The thing I’m trying to do with this basketball team is get them relaxed, get them to have fun because there’s very few of these guys who have competed in the tournament,” Pitino said. “Though the schedule has prepared us for the competition, suddenly they have the media around, they're talking constantly, they're looking at -- they turn on ESPN and everybody has an opinion. So the time is different for these guys, and they're not used to it. We went to a Final Four in '12, and those guys, like Villanova is today, were so hungry to get back (in 2013) because they tasted that in their mouth. This team hasn't tasted that yet. It will be interesting to see how they respond.”

A year ago, Pitino said he missed being able to give his players an NCAA Tournament experience, after the school self-imposed a postseason ban.

He’s always good for one NCAA Tournament soliloquy, and on Thursday, the first day of his 21st NCAA Tournament appearance, he had two.

“It's the most fun time because Super Bowl is very big in our country, but it's two teams,” Pitino said. “If you're not a fan of those two teams, you want to tune in and watch it, but there are so many fans of every school waiting to be Cinderella, waiting to get to the Final four. To me, it's just a magical time. . . . The difficult thing about last year was our culture as a basketball team, especially in the humility department, was changed tremendously by Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. That's what hurts. Those guys transferred to Louisville to play in the NCAA tournament, and they never got a chance to play. But they did change the culture of our basketball team becoming a very humble group.”

And these guys get a chance. Pitino said there’s little chance of his team overlooking its first-round opponent, No. 15-seed Jacksonville State and their coach, Ray Harper. He said his players haven’t overlooked an opponent all season.

“We don’t change our approach to scouting, but we change our approach to how we address the game,” Pitino said, of NCAA Tournament preparation. “And that’s something between our team and coaching staff. . . . We played the number one ranked schedule and the kids have survived and made that competition, made us better, but along the way, we gave the same effort with every single opponent we have played. I think the guys have tremendous respect for Jacksonville State. We don't talk about where they're seeded. We just talk about what they do well. As a coaching staff, we have great respect for what Ray does. I've coached against him many times, and they're very sound defensively, very sound offensively. And they're shooting the ball great, much better than at any point in the season the last four games.”

The tournament is here. Pitino spent a good portion of the team’s shootaround talking with Grant Hill. Players enjoyed the fans, signed autographs, talked, Quentin Snider even held a child to pose for a picture.

It’ll be all business soon enough. For now, Louisville is back in the Big Dance. And the players are enjoying the moment.

ERIC CRAWFORD AND TOM LANE WILL HAVE MORE ON THE CARDINALS FROM INDIANAPOLIS ON WDRB NEWS AT 4, 6, 10 and 11, AS WELL AS REPORTS ON THE UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY.

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