Rick Pitino Talks to Media About Chris Jones

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

Video from Courier-Journal

Opening Statement 

We’re not going to do our radio show tonight and I didn’t want you guys to think I’m ducking any questions or any responsibilities. To be quite honest with you, I’ve been recruiting every night this week and I have not slept a wink in 48 hours.

I’m totally saddened, to the point of disbelief, over the incident. We’ve built a very strong culture here of discipline and doing the right things, and I’m very proud of all the players that have gone through here and done the right thing, and this comes at a time when we’re all shocked, extremely disheartened, and very much saddened for everybody involved. Our prayers go out to every single person involved in all of this.

We educate our players in every area. At the beginning of the year I had a lawyer who deals with this all the time come in and speak to the team about every little pitfall that could happen. Nothing this extreme, but understanding how your life can be altered by not doing the right things. And I have to tell you I speak on it once or twice a week. Anytime there’s anything in sports, even politics, I bring it up to our players and show them how lives can be ruined, politically, athletically, from all walks of life. I probably speak on this subject, more than drugs and more than alcohol five times over. So you can imagine how disheartened I am to see this happen.

At this point I can’t comment on anything that goes on. The judicial system takes over here. Any member of your family that goes through this, believe me, it’s just a shock to all of us, and it’s a sad day for us, because we’ve had so many kids go through here and do the right thing. And to see this is very disheartening. I’ll take any questions. Obviously you know I cannot say anything about the case. I’d probably give you an answer I don’t know anyway.

Chris Jones’ Personality

You know, his basic thing is he can be very playful on the court, where he doesn’t pay attention, and then he can get very emotional on the court. In junior college he got thrown out of the Final Four for I think, got thrown out of the game for a technical foul. That’s his background of emotional outburst on the court with technical fouls, and sulking and being emotional on the court. There’s not one time been any of this type of misconduct in his past, so it comes as a shock. Now, he’s the type of guy that, in practice, if he does the wrong things, he could get in a fight very easily. But nothing any of us would ever believe this could happen.

On Jones’ suspension last week not being tougher

Well there’s a lot you don’t know about that that I can’t say, because two parties were at fault there. We were sitting at dinner. Our plane got delayed. All of a sudden Kenny Johnson (assistant coach) came up to me and said “read this.” And I read what’s been out there. And I said immediately “go get him, he’s not coming on the trip, put him in his room, and take away his phone.” I was taking away the phone for two reasons. I wanted to read anything prior to that, which he did turn over anyway and let us read it, and two, I wanted to make sure there were no other responses. He did not do it to be honest with you. He did not give it to Kenny. We were on our way to the airport. And then that’s when I said, telling you guys, if something is not met by the time I get home, then he’s gone. And that was the phone. I don’t think I gave a time limit.

But I put him on a suspension of early morning rise in here, to 9 o’clock curfew, to no visitation, no going out, and his phone is taken away for whatever length I deemed. Normally it’s two weeks. I don’t know if I gave him a length — I never tell the player, I tell David Padgett — I’m not sure I told him a length of time. At that point, I didn’t have all the facts. Then I looked at a lot of other things that were presented to me, as part of the thing, which I can’t mention. There are a lot of things — and you should never, ever give that type of text, regardless of what was said, even if your room was burned, you shouldn’t say that — but a lot was done.

So when I went there and talked it over they said “it’s out of your hands Rick and the dean of discipline is taking this over.” Whatever they did, I don’t know what procedures they go through, but they went through it with both parties and it was handled through university policy. So when I came back (from Syracuse) the matter was settled. I reinstated him as a basketball player but I did not change all the things he has to go through, because the university dealt with it, but he still was on a two-week suspension. Then the moment I found out that he broke curfew, before I knew to any degree what these charges were, he was dismissed immediately from the basketball team.

Question: Did you let him know that he was dismissed?

I did.

Question: Can you share anything you talked to him about?

Well first, Kenny came in, we were watching film and afterwards he came in with a sad look on his face and I asked “what’s wrong?” And he said, “Chris had problem last night.” And he gave me a time and I said, “you got the wrong guy, he has curfew.” He said, “no I got the right guy.” I said, “it can’t be. Are you sure?” And he said, “yes.” I said “what happened?” And he went through vague details. I called them back in and I asked him “were you out last night?” And he (Jones) said “yes”, before he explained or before we got into any conversation, I said “you’re off this basketball team right away. Now what happened?” He told me what happened. Obviously I can’t get into what he told me because it would probably conflict with other people’s testimony, so I can’t get into that.

Question: Where did Kenny (Johnson) hear it? 

Kenny, let me get this straight now. Kenny Johnson heard about it because the girl texted it to police, and the police texted it to Kenny. I think that’s the way it happened. I’m not 100 percent sure. Kenny got it though. I don’t know where exactly he got it. And then he asked Chris for his phone and he looked at a bunch of other things on the phone.

Question: Did you refer him to counseling?

No, because he was already being seen for personality difficulties by a person. Whether it was strictly for anger management, I’m not sure, but he was seeing somebody.

Impact on chance of Jones playing pro

I think that he would’ve had a chance. He wasn’t going to be a first-round draft choice. He certainly could’ve played overseas and he certainly could’ve tried out for an NBA team. Now he is a 5-9, 5-10-inch guard, so it’s more difficult for them. But I think that’s unimportant right now.

On talking to players about these issues

I think I’d spoken to them 20-30 times in the last month prior to this about situations because anytime something happens we bring it to their attention. And that’s what so disappointing about this whole thing and so sad. I told them once again, about respecting women. We have long conversations, much more than anything else.

Players’ reaction to the news

They were all in shock like me. We’re all deeply saddened and, when I told them he was dismissed from the team, everybody was shocked. When I told them what had happened, they were dismayed and they didn’t believe it.

Did the news affect the team at Georgia Tech?

No I don’t think it affected them mentally. I think that they are distraught to see this happen to any teammate. And I think that they are, I think we just all went into shock. We didn’t know how to react, we were in such shock. Because we deal with problems that are an argument practice, somebody not having their laces tied to get ready to go. We haven’t dealt with this here. We’ve dealt with what every college deals with, the typical marijuana problems that have not been set by us but by the player himself. Every university deals with that today because it is quite prevalent in professional as well as collegiate sports, but we’ve never dealt with anything like this.

More on Chris

Look, all my players, whether they’re here or not, are like children to me. And you want every child to turn out exactly the right way, and ones don’t, you don’t abandon them. But I’ve had problems with Chris, but it’s never been of this nature. My problems have been sulking, emotional outbursts in practice, not paying attention. He’s always on time, he’s always worked hard, by and large he’s always done the right thing for the team. I’ve never seen any signs of this.

When he learned of the problem

After practice. I knew there was a problem, just by the look on Kenny’s face. We didn’t know whether there were rape charges, what they were going to be, we did not know any of that. We didn’t know if Chris was directly involved. Because, after speaking with Chris…that’s all I can say on that matter.

Jones after being dismissed

He texted me right after I dismissed him. That’s why I didn’t think there was going to be a major problem. He said, ‘Boss I thank you so much for what you’ve done for me. I love you for everything you tried to do for me. I’m sorry for what I’ve done to the team. Go out and tell the fellas to go out and win a championship.’ That’s pretty much verbaitim what he said.

Question: Have you spoken to his parents?

Yes I’ve spoken to his dad on numerous occasions.

Question: Were you at any point in contact with the police department?

I never spoke to the police or the university officials. Any type of thing academically I keep myself out of it, and I let the university handle it. If there’s a problem with housing, and argument in the dormitories, I never get in the middle of that. I don’t make a phone call. I let housing officials take care of it. If there’s a university problem, I let the dean of discipline the care of it. I take care of it my own way, even if they settle it, and got both parties together and it was resolved and disciplined both parties, I still kept the discipline on myself.

On his discipline policy

I’ve always been accused of giving too much discipline, being too hard on everybody throughout the years. But I think for parents, coaches and teachers, being too hard is the best remedy of prevention. Obviously in this case, it wasn’t true.

On how he punishes players 

What I have found in the past, you suspend a player for the game, and the rest of the guys suffer and he doesn’t really suffer that much. A little personal embarrassment but he really doesn’t suffer that much. So what I do traditionally is I give them a length of time where they can’t go out seven days a week. They’ve got to get up at 6 in the morning and report here and go through exercises that they don’t like. And take away their phones, which is probably the thing they hate the most. They can’t go out and they can’t get any visitations, and they’re on lockdown for a period of time. And I’ve done this, sometimes it’s been a month long. But nothing of this level or nature.

Any sign Jones was going in a bad direction leading up to this?

Really not because he was in a great mood the Miami game. He played terrific. He broke curfew to go out and celebrate the fact that he played well, which is absurd. To tell you the truth, I haven’t knowingly now, I’ve never had a player break curfew on me in all my years. Now, that’s not saying they haven’t done it and I didn’t catch them. Because you can’t always. We have surveillance so if somebody would see them out, then we can go to the tape and find out. I’ve had it the other way where they weren’t supposed to have visitation, somebody told me they had a visitor, so we went to the surveillance camera and extended it out another two weeks. I’ve had the opposite, but never someone going out.

On the program’s reputation being damaged

You know, it’s interesting because you can spend 13 years building up a culture of Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng, Hancock, Van Treese, Garcia, Dean, all these people that really, really loved the university and did the right things, and in one swoop it can all go away for you, all the good that you build. Now, time does heal wounds. You get back to your culture and doing that. But it’s like any family that has a problem with a child. It’s something that you never see coming. If you see it coming, you would do something about it. It’s nothing you could ever see.

How he expects the team to react

They’re going to play basketball. Sometimes, give you like a basketball analogy, we played really well the other night in the first half, moved the ball, moved the ball, inside, outside, great shot, and then listen to the announcers saying, they’re not moving the ball, they’e standing around, all because the shooting percentage was bad. Now in the second half we go out there, make a great comeback, play unbelievable defense, we shot quickly, didn’t take great shots but we made them, just the opposite and we came back and won the game, and everybody has a different perspective.

They didn’t come to play in the first half. Well it was just the opposite from a basketball strategy standpoint. We had all great movement, all great shots, it’s on my TV show this week. None of them went in. Second half Terry comes out, guy challenges him he makes it, guy challenges him on the other side and he makes it, and we make great comeback and come back to win. So we were ready to play, unfortunately very few people want to give the other team credit. They played very well. They had Duke beat at Duke.

I expect our team to come to play, just because you’ve got to separate. No matter what happens in your life, personal tragedy, death in the family, when you show up for work, regardless of the adversity you are facing, it’s called what I call “between the lines.” When you step between the lines you are to give extraordinary effort and tremendous focus. That’s your job. We all go through these trials and tribulations, with our families, with our friends, seeing loved ones pass, and we’ve still got go the next day between the lines, and that’s what we are right now. We’re between the lines. And we’ve got to go out and do a great job.

More on his own feelings on this

Well, you know, someday you’re going to be a mother and someday you’re going to be a father, and you hope that every child turns out great, you really do. And when they don’t, you’re very disappointed, needless to say, but you don’t love your team any less. So you move on to build good character, you educate, you do the best job that you can possibly do. If I felt there was any wrongdoing at all, I’d resign yesterday. I really would, because, like right now I told you I’m dismayed, I’m extremely, extremely sad, and if I felt that at any point I didn’t do the correct thing for my players, I would pack it in yesterday, because it doesn’t mean that much to me. They’re much more important than me.

Does this change how he evaluates recruits off the court?

We do our homework on every kid. What do you think of him? His coach at junior college said he’s a terrific kid. He’s got a problem with losing his temper on the court. He said he’ll listen to you, he’ll respect you, he’ll play hard. I said any other problems at all about the kid? Will he go to class, will he do the right thing? He said yes he will. Everybody said that. I had many conversations with his dad about it. He hasn’t done anything at all that has been any different than any other player since he’s been here — that we have seen. We got blindsided by this. But now, are we not going to take a chance because when someone says now ‘he’s a very emotional kid?’ Maybe our antennas go up a little bit more, and see exactly what that means. But I don’t think this was an emotional thing. I think he went out, broke curfew and did the wrong things.

Does he want the players to talk to Chris?

I’m not going to tell them not to speak to Chris. I wouldn’t do that. And I don’t think our players are going to say anything to Chris. They may just say keep your chin up, tell the truth and that kind of stuff. But I wouldn’t tell my players not to speak to him, no, if that’s what your’e alluding to.

Who was he speaking to about issues?

I don’t necessarily say this just about anger issues, it’s just about having someone to speak to. In certain situations where there are broken families and everything, you need somebody to speak to.

What he expects from the team moving forward

Look, like I said, I’ll repeat it, we’ll step between the lines. A lot of these guys lose brothers, parents, grandparents, and they have to go out there and play two or three days after the person passes and they’re buried. So, you know, it’s part of life. You have a job to do. We’re all saddened by it, but we have a job to do. So we’re not going to lay down on this situation as a basketball team. Now we could get beat three games because the teams we’re playing could beat us. But it’s not going to be because of these incidents and the fact that we’re saddened.

Describe the last 3 days

I’ll just repeat it. I’m very sad, very sad. It’s not a top 5 moment. I’m just very sad.

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