Rick Pitino Talks Miami, Fans Panicking, and Much More

Photo: Tim Haag/CardinalSportsZone.com
Photo: Tim Haag/CardinalSportsZone.com

Rick Pitino met with the media on Friday afternoon for about 20-25 minutes to talk about the Miami game, along with many other things. He talks about Chris Jones, Wayne Blackshear, team meetings, and much more. Here is the transcript.

Opening Statement

There are a lot of big games that come into play when you’re in a league like the ACC, but by far this game has the most significance to us at this time. It’s probably the most important game for us that’s come in here this year with more significance than just an outstanding opponent. Because if you look at the standings, if our hope is to finish in the top four and get a double bye, we suddenly go with three other teams, including Miami, record-wise. So we need a win desperately at this point. There’s a lot at stake for both teams and certainly we need a very loud, very enthusiastic crowd, we need great defense from our team, need a lot of emotion tomorrow afternoon.

Where the team is at mentally

I think the guys are fine. We played a good game against Syracuse. Our problem defensively is about 5-6 plays a game where our players don’t understand what we’re trying to do in our scheme, we make mistakes and we give up a layup because we’re in the wrong place. Those things we can fix, it’s inexperience coming from some of the freshmen. But our number one problem is ball containment on straight-line drives. It forces rotation by your bigs, it gets them in foul trouble. It’s our young players making those mistakes and we’re trying to work with it. But anytime you play young guys they get beat a lot defensively.

Is it technique?

Everybody’s different. Quentin’s biggest problem — it’s not his speed and it’s not his quickness — what he does is he’s guarding this microphone, and when the microphone goes to make a move he goes at the microphone. Instead of picking out a spot he can get to to stop the guy, his first move is toward and then he’s got to go back. A guy like Chris Jones, he can go AT that guy and force him to go east or west. Quentin can’t do that. Now, Nanu’s problem is he slides, he slides, he slides, and then he’s got to go block it and he can’t let the guy turn the corner on him in the post or on the perimeter. He gives up a lot when he’s on the perimeter; he’ll slide, slide, then give up the baseline. You’ve got to step out of bounds with your foot and that’s your sixth man defensively, the baseline.

On Chinanu Onuaku improving

Nanu’s really getting better. He’s improving. I think it’s obvious to notice how well he outlets the ball. He’s getting more confidence in his offense, he’s posting up. They’re finally throwing him the ball. He’s always posted up hard, but young bigs have a difficult time catching the ball, so they’re getting more confidence in him, getting more confidence in Anas. Both of those guys are really improving as the season goes along.

Where Onuaku’s confidence comes from

When he catches it and scores, makes good moves to the basket.

On Chris Jones playing but not starting

He will. He had to do things unrelated to us and he got it done.

On the last game against Miami

We played well, played very well offensively. We have to make some corrections. They’re a different team. Whether they do it against us or not raises a question, but they have been playing four guards, switching everything, and it’s caused some damage to teams defensively (because) their four guards get into the paint, they shoot great. Now whether they’ll do that against us or not, I’m not sure.

On fans panicking after two straight losses

Probably the ones that don’t study history panic. The ones that understand the game, understand the way we are, because you can pick out losing streaks every season. I showed my wife, here’s the record I thought we’d have at this point, and based on six weeks of practice I had it exactly right at 20-6 except I had the games wrong with the wins and losses. You sort of think where your bumps in the road will be. I didn’t expect it to be North Carolina State at home, let’s just say that. I’m happy with the record and where we are.

Chris (Jones) knows how disappointed I am he missed that game. I said, ‘You cost your team a victory.’ Not saying we would have definitely won if he was there, but he knows how I feel and he’s very disappointed as well because he wanted to make that trip. We’ve got to move on now. I said, ‘You can’t do anything to erase your mistake, but what you can do is play harder and better.’ He said, ‘Coach, don’t you think I play really hard?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know if anybody plays any harder than you, but now you’ve got to go beyond it because we’ve got five games remaining and we could lose all five if we don’t start to play great defense, so you’ve got to pick it up.

On Wayne Blackshear

He did have an assist, though. Most SIDs, if they’re not in a tavern would have picked up on that. First of all, Wayne’s playing great basketball. And I don’t base it just on the games, he’s playing great in practice, I mean great. He’s doing things I haven’t seen him do before — taking off and dunking on people, getting fouled. But when he gets in foul trouble, he gets…and I’m afraid to let him get in foul trouble in that type of game.

On deflections

This is going to sound strange to you … deflections are five areas. So I’m guarding you and I get a piece of the ball, it stops the offense, may create a steal for somebody else. It’s a barometer for pressure on the ball; that’s part of it. Then we have the steal, a blocked shot, a tip from behind in transition or the press, and the 50-50 ball recovery. If you get 35 of those or more, like we averaged almost 40 on the championship team, you’re going to win that game unless the other team makes 15-16 threes. That’s what stops you from winning 100 percent of the games. It’s obviously a challenge to your defense.

That championship team got it. Luke wasn’t a great defensive player, but the reason they got it is they knew what the other team was going to run and they broke it down. They knew where it would occur. They knew if they drove baseline you step out of bounds, you can rotate to the inside and get the steal. So they knew what the other team was going to run so well, they knew where the deflections would occur. They were more active with their hands, they pressed better, they anticipated better. Your a defensive back, how do you get interceptions? It’s not only reading the eyes of the quarterback, but you know the offensive scheme, their alignment, you have an idea where the ball’s going. It’s the same in basketball.

On a shorter shot clock: I think what the shorter shot clock would do…I just got a thing from the coaching association or the NCAA, are we in favor and there were like seven different things, and the shot clock was one. The 30-second clock, what it does is, it forces people, instead of taking 5-6 seconds in the backcourt, you take 3 or 4 and to push the pace a little bit, create movement.

A lot of great defensive teams milk the clock for the first 15 seconds and then they’re very good at executing in the next 13-14 seconds. Virginia comes to mind, I mean they’re great at it. Where everybody else panics a little bit with the clock running down, they don’t panic at all. So what the 30-second clock does, it forces you to speed up the game a little bit. I’m quite baffled why it hasn’t happened 7-8 years ago.

It’s interesting, most of the people on the rules committee are not from the five major conferences, all of them probably aren’t. If you’re from a lower Division I or Division II and the only way you can win against bigger teams is ball control and slowing it down, you may have a totally different opinion than me. And I’m sure Tony Bennett has a different opinion than me, although I think he could win if there was a 24-second clock. His defense is so good and to turn the flip side, he might not like it offensively.

On the recent talk of making freshmen ineligible

Here’s the reason I don’t think it will never happen. It’s nice conversation, but it will never happen because it costs money to run freshman teams, and as soon as you tell ADs it costs money they don’t like it. So I don’t think it will happen. And they’d have to increase the scholarships from 13 to 16 and that’s more money. So it sounds great; it’s not happening.

I think what they’re trying to do is develop more education for athletes. They want to stop the one-and-done. I think in theory, it has a lot of good things. Players mature, they understand the reason they’re there, it creates discipline in their life. It humbles them a little bit so they’re not the star coming in right away. So there’s a lot of good things to it, but it’s not going to happen. I would equate it to us putting in a 24-second clock.

On freshmen going overseas to play rather than playing in college

I think we’ve got to somehow, and I don’t have the answer to this, to where somehow the point is that you’re going to college to get an education. Now, if you have a chance to someday continue your education, but young players need an education, they need discipline. It’s not just the academic education, it’s the education of being early, being energetic, being a hard worker, understanding how to communicate with your fellow students, professors. There’s so much more that goes into it than just playing basketball. And so, that’s what everybody wants, a total rounding into form of the young student-athlete. And how to get there is the problem, because on one side you have the NBA and the players’ association which runs their union, or is a big part of the union, and the other hand you have the NCAA and what can they do to benefit. And anytime I look at something, I say, OK how much is it going to cost? That’s not going to happen.

We’re trying to take a private charter on our trip to Spain, like Duke did, Duke took a private charter to China. So, as soon as I found out the cost, I said, we’re not doing that. I’d put Kevin Miller in the hospital. So the first thing we do is try to get with our alumni association and get with our fans, and say, OK can we fill up the plane to make it financially feasible to do. But once you say, this is going to cost money and this is going to happen and you’ve got to increase the scholarships, not going to happen.

On the power five conferences pulling away from the NCAA

It’s been talked about. I would hate to see it, personally. I would hate to have March Madness without all the Cinderella teams and everything, for us. But the one thing I have learned is football dominates the powers that be. At one time that wasn’t the case, but today football dominates everything. Teams are willing to go 800 miles away for a conference game. And all the other athletes don’t matter. Football is going to determine what happens to a lot of athletic programs.

On football dominating college sports

It doesn’t bother me. It’s, you know, I want our football team to be awesome. But Louisville basketball is quite special. I want our football team to be great. It’s America, and America likes football — the No. 1 sport. It’s what it is. Europe likes soccer. I don’t quite see that, but it is. I root for our soccer program, I think it’s great.

Do the players sense how big the conference games are?

Let me give you the difference. And, look, I don’t want you to get the opinion that these aren’t great guys. They’e great guys, they really are. Chris Jones is a great kid. You may not see it because his body language is not always the best. When he comes to the bench, he doesn’t want to get taken out, ever. He wants to play all 40 minutes. I can’t get him to smile on the bench. I can get him to play hard, so that’s enough for me. But I can’t get him to come out and hand the towel to the guy and be happy about coming out, even though he has to understand, other people like to play. So that’s one thing you’ve got to live with.

I had one person in a restaurant say to me the other night, I have a question, ‘Is Chris Jones upset at you because of Pittsburgh?’ I said, ‘I really don’t care, ma’am.’ And she said, ‘Well is he?’ I said, I don’t think he is. I think he understood that he wasn’t playing well, it’s quite obvious if he watches tape. And she said, ‘Well why do you say that?’ And she said, ‘Because he didn’t hug you when they announced his name.’ I said, ‘He has a different act. He hugs me before he goes out. You need to watch that and pay attention.’ She looked at me and, I said, ‘Really, you don’t have to worry about the hugs before the game. It’s not going to be a major factor in the game.’ And she said, ‘No, I was just curious.'”

So, my point being, with the difference, it was also an awful big risk, to tell the team, I told you after the fact (during the championship season) that we weren’t cutting down the nets at any place, because I felt that group was totally focused on winning a championship. Now we didn’t have that type of team like I had in 1996 that you could think would win 16 straight at the time. But I knew if I told those guys that they totally would totally believe in that, and they were going to do everything possible. Then after we told them about not cutting down the nets, now here’s how it happened after the Notre Dame game, the five overtime game, I said now here’s how we can do it. And they totally bought into every facet of what I said.

This team, you’ve got six guys, two probably really don’t even understand March Madness, why everybody gets all excited about that. And the other four guys probably have not paid too much attention to it, maybe with the exception of Quentin because he lives in this town. So you start out with six players like that already. It’s, come Senior Night, the last remnants of that championship are gone with Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell. That’s it, there’s no people remaining from those great moments. So I don’t think this team understands the whole thing I’m trying to get across to them. So we’re basically teaching, here’s the standings, here’s where we are, here’s the meaning, guys you won’t understand the feeling of playing in front of 80,000 people someday if we get to that moment. They see my passion and excitement for it, but they really don’t have any reference point of it, except Montrezl and Wayne and some of the other guys who have watched it. So that’s what we’re trying to build towards.

Can these tough times bring the team closer together?

I think if you spoke to Billy Donovan right now, or my son, you’d find out what tough times are. It’s almost like, somebody worth millions of dollars, and they lose $100,000 in the stock market, and say, ‘Boy I had a really tough day.’ So I wouldn’t say we have tough times right now.

Even with the losing?

Losing at Syracuse? If you look at their percentage, I know we were the favorite to win the game, or whatever you go by, but it’s a credit to Syracuse and the way that young man played in the low post. So I like the way we played in that game. I loved the unselfishness and the quick ball movement. It was interesting the announcer, I listened to the game when I re-watched it, I don’t know him real well but he’s bright, but he said, ‘The ball’s really not moving very well. It’s zipping side to side,’ because we weren’t scoring. Then all of a sudden we got a dunk and hit a three and he was caught in his statement already.

I like the offensive movement. I like what we did. I liked Q getting in the lane, and having his head up and throwing a lob and throwing a bounce pass and scoring a layup, so I liked all those things about that game. Did I like the N.C. State? No. Was I disappointed? I was. So I don’t think we’re going through tough times. When we get knocked out of the NCAA, then it’s going to be really a tough time. You’ll all be out of a job and I’ll be out of work. Basketball job, I mean. Don’t have your wives want to kill you.

More on Wayne Blackshear 

I think he doesn’t get in the flow sometimes. And I think he stresses out when he gets fouls. I can tell you from practice, and I couldn’t say this other years, he dominates practice. Dominates practice. Playing great. So I expect him to have a great finish to the year. I remember Peyton’s senior year, I don’t know if you recall, some of you guys, but Peyton wasn’t playing great until the latter stages of his senior year, and then he became one of two players, the other one being Patrick Ewing, to win back-to-back MVPs in the Garden. Then he got on a great NCAA run. I actually expect the same thing of Wayne Blackshear, because he’s had a great year practice-wise.

On team meeting

We met with the coaches, but I’m going to tell you something about players-only meetings and coaches meetings. Nothing ever comes out of it. It really doesn’t. It’s always short-lived. I’ve been through hundreds of player meetings in the pros, hundreds of meetings in college, it lasts for two days, sometimes a week, max. Nothing ever comes out of it. We had a great meeting the other day, about the veterans and freshmen talking, each got up and talked about what we need to do better and how they can do better and you’ve got to mature in this area. For two days it was much better, then they reverted back. It’s all about execution in this game.

Now, you could have meetings about attitude. Look, our attitude’s got to change. But our attitude’s fine. We know, as a basketball team, just what I mentioned about Chris. Chris is not jealous one bit of Terry Rozier, loves the fact that Terry Rozier gets publicity, loves the fact that Montrezl gets publicity, wants to hear nice things from me about him, and he does privately, because he wants the team to win. He’s got a great basketball attitude. The problem is, and you’ve got to live with it, is just what I mentioned earlier. If he comes out of the game, you know, I’m not his best friend anymore. As long as I keep him in the game, he loves me.

On Terry Rozier

If he can just continue to rebound like he does in big games. In the final five minutes of the game, he’s the best rebounder on the court. If he can do that for us, at the start of the game as well as the finish. But Terry’s having a great season.

On Quentin Snider

Somebody mentioned it earlier, if you want to have a silver lining in the cloud of that game, it was the fact that I saw what Quentin Snider could do. He showed unbelievable offensive maturity. All of us were kind of taken back by that a little bit, at how good he was at it. We see flashes of that in practice all the time, but a freshman to go into a game, and he hasn’t started, hasn’t played that much, and just boom, right away, play like he’s a veteran, and not just blend in, but he said I’m going to be the best guard on this floor from an offensive standpoint, and he was terrific. And even the two shots he missed in the corner, they were big shots if we make them. He didn’t shy away from the shots, and that’s what I wanted most. Listen son, we need the shot, you’re open, you take it. He didn’t even hesitate. So I gained a lot of respect for Quentin Snider as a freshman in that game.

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