Rick Pitino Talks Notre Dame, Wayne Blackshear, Underhanded Free Throws, and More

Photo: Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
Photo: Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

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Opening statement

Well there are times that this season has gone by quick, and times it has gone by slow. It seems like the last month has gone by at the snap of a finger. Now we’re faced with two really difficult games to get to a double bye. Our fate is in our hands, and we’ve got two very difficult teams to go against. One team is, percentage wise, the best offensive team in the country. The other team is the best, well one of the premier defensive teams in the country. So certainly we have our hands full. But I think our guys are up for the challenge. We’ve got to do a lot of things well to have any chance of beating either one of those teams.

On lack of shooters, but team’s heart

This has kind of been an amazing year, of all the teams that I’ve coached. I’m sort of amazed at our basketball team’s fortitude because really we don’t have one shooter on the team. Not one. And that’s really an amazing thing. Now we have a lot of guys who can score. But we’ve always had at least one or two shooters on our team. This is a team where we don’t have one, and I’ve never had that in my 40 years of coaching. I’ve had some teams that didn’t shoot the ball well but there was always one or two guys who could knock it down.

It speaks volumes with these guys and the type of heart they have to make comebacks, to fight for every possession. The good thing is we can score because anytime you move the ball like we did last game and pass the ball like that, we can score. We’ve shown it last game, against Indiana early in the season. The more ball movement, the better scorers we have. But in today’s world of pack-line defenses and packing it in, you’ve got to have people that can knock the shot down. So it’s been an amazing feat for these guys. I’m real proud of them. But as we round out the season, we’ve got to be meticulous. Not only in our preparation, but in the way we attack teams. I’ve got a lot of confidence that these guys are up for the challenge.

On how to attack opposing defenses

Every team must be attacked differently. The obvious thing is, if you looked at the way we attacked Virginia in the first half, you’d say “Did you prepare at all for that team?” And then when you look at the second half, you’d say “That’s the way you have to attack Virginia.” So every team must be attacked differently. Notre Dame will switch a great deal. We suspect they will make a lot of changes in their defense because they’ve had 8 days to prepare.

So it becomes a little bit of a chess match and what your team has to realize is that every game can’t be played the same exact way. I think you’ve got two different teams coming in here this week that really hits the point of exactly what I’m talking about. And that’s true in the NCAA Tournament or the ACC Tournament. You could play on Thursday against one team and the next day you are playing against a completely different style.

On the importance of getting the double bye

I just think it’s a distinction that you are among the conference elites and getting it is important. It’s important for seeding. Our goal is to become a 3 seed. I think we can get there and that would be remarkable. Winning these two, going far in the tournament, I think if we sweep the board we will be a 2 seed. But I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Obviously we have lofty goals, but that’s what we’ve created here. When you have three 30 win seasons, that’s what you look forward to.

On Notre Dame

They’re never out of it because they shoot it so great. We’ve shot it well against them also. There have been exciting games, great for the fans. I don’t necessarily think that Saturday’s game (against Virginia) will be very exciting, like rock fights. But I think they’ve always been exciting games and certainly we appreciate their style and we have great camaraderie. It’s a nice rivalry, it’s a friendly rivalry that we look forward to.

More on the Irish

This is the best defensive backcourt Notre Dame has had. They’ve had some good backcourts, but this is a team that can put plenty of pressure on you, has plenty of size, has terrific athleticism, can take you off the bounce. They shoot it at four positions, they can switch at four positions. They cut real well, they pass real well. Based on their shooting percentages, their number one in the country per possession. So we have a great defensive challenge ahead of us. Guys like Quentin Snider and Chinanu, when they see all of those cuts, they are going to think they have two heads on their shoulders.

On Jerian Grant

He’s also a great steal guy. He’s driving a great deal. When he goes left, he looks to pass the ball. When he goes right, he looks to score more. He’s a great player, one of the premier guards in the country. We recruited Jackson, we know what he can do. He does it all. He’s one of the better players in the nation.

What is different about the offense now with Quentin?

I don’t think it’s Quentin. I think it’s the other people stepping up. I don’t think Quentin had a very good game against Florida State to be honest with you. He didn’t play particularly well in that game, so I don’t think it has anything to do with Quentin, although people like to say that. But if you look at the film, that doesn’t bare out. I think it’s the ball movement by Terry and Montrezl, and all of the guys understanding who they are and how they can shoot a high percentage. The less ball movement, the lower the percentage, the lower they’ll score. More ball movement, more player movement, the higher percentage and the more they’ll get easy buckets.

We drill it every single day that that’s the key to our success because if you’re not a great shooting team, a great spot-up team, you need ball movement.

Has Terry had to adjust to playing with Quentin after playing all season with Chris?

I don’t think so, at all.

On watching the film of Duke beating Notre Dame 90-60.

I don’t think it helps you prepare, but you do watch it. You have to watch it because maybe there are certain things that Duke did in that game that we can utilize. I think it’s one of those nights where one team had everything going right and the other team had everything going wrong. But you watch every game they play. You even go back, believe it or not, to two years ago when we played them, just for tendencies.

On Wayne Blackshear

I basically stop play in practice everytime he catches the basketball on a reverse pass and he doesn’t drive a close out. He gets tired of me. I’ll say “Why didn’t you drive there? There was no double team. They were closing out on you.” So he’s getting in the habit of knowing what I want in terms of driving close outs and I don’t want him driving baseline. I want him driving middle. He’s starting to pick it up now. He’s still not where I want him, but he’s starting to pick it up much better.

I think he’s become a much better ball handler this year than other times. I don’t think he could go left very well, now he goes left very well. I think he worked very hard this summer on his ball handling. He’s got great size. He scored every which way last game. Drives, jump shots, mid range shots, post ups. And that’s what you want to see him do. Not rely on just a jump shot. That’s what I keep trying to tell Anton Gill is it can’t be feast or famine. You have to do other things except knock down the shot. I’m very happy he knocked down the shot. We needed it, but you’ve got to make passes. You’ve got to play good defense, you’ve got to grab rebounds.

On Anton Gill

Well I think our guys have confidence in throwing him the ball. I think Anton, the good thing about him, he’s not shy at all. None of these guys are shy. The only ones you have to prod to shoot a little bit more at times is Wayne. If he misses a couple of shots, he doesn’t want to shoot anymore and I keep staying on him saying “You’ve got to stay offensively hungry and aggressive.” But everybody else is not shy at all.

A lesson on big rim/small rim from Pitino

He’s (Gill) been streaky. We have a team that shoots at a small rim. Steph Curry shoots at the best circumference imaginable. He’s got a high arc and it comes down. A lot of shooting coaches will have a ladder and they’ll have the players look down from the ladder into the rim and say “that’s a perfect shot.” Steph Curry shoots at almost the whole rim, maybe 90% of it. The reason we’re not better shooters is we don’t shoot at a big rim.

Guys like Quentin and Wayne at times and Terry at times shoot with arc, but not Steph Curry arc. The only one who really does that and he has bad balance and hand placement in Shaqquan. He shoots at a big rim. Dillon Avare shoots at a big rim. The rest of them shoot at a small rim and that’s why they’re not knockdown shooters. But their form is pretty good. Wayne has good form. Once in a while on free throws, he looks at the ball. Terry’s got good form. Quentin’s got good form. But they shoot at a small rim. The (shooting) gun helps them a lot. That forces them to shoot at a bigger rim. That’s what it’s made for. So that’s what we’re striving for. Get lift and get more arc.

More on shooters

We’re looking for that in players right now. We feel we can teach defense. We can teach the system, we can teach all of that. But people today wonder why the scoring has gone down. Yes we do need a 30 second shot clock. Yes the defenses have gotten better, no question about it. But the reason: there are very few shooters anymore. I mean great, knockdown shooters. The young man from Kentucky, Booker, he’s a great knockdown shooter. Those guys are not easy to find today so we’ve made it a habit of what we are looking for right now, we want guys who shoot at a big rim. We can work on the other facets of the game.

Chinanu Onuaku working on underhanded free throws? 

That’s all he shoots in practice and in individual instruction.

How is it?

Well he’ll shoot just as well as he does overhand, but that’s 40 something percent.

Tough to get him to accept shooting like that?

No he liked it right away. It fits the structure of his hands. If you work at it, and we have watched the tapes of Barry and if you work at it, he’ll get good because it’s not spinning the ball at the rim. It’s shooting the ball at the rim so it lays over the front of the rim and we’ve got to stop him from spinning the ball. It’s not going to happen this year, but by the end of the summer, we’re going to have him in the higher 60s shooting underhanded.

So, no underhanded this year?

I don’t think he’s quite ready for that. Now if we start seeing 8 out of 10 in practice, then he definitely will do it. I think you will more likely just see substitutions.

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