Rick Pitino met with the media on Monday afternoon for almost 30 minutes to wrap up the season, which saddens me. It is about 8 days too early, but it happens. He said that Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell will both go pro, and also hints that a couple of players could transfer.
Since the press conference this afternoon, we learned that sophomore Anton Gill will transfer.
Transcript from Courier-Journal.com. Edited by me.
Before I leave on the recruiting trail, we had individual instructions and I missed you guys so I wanted to say goodbye to you one last time. You know, there’s good and bad in every season, and I’m not going to mislead you and tell you that it doesn’t hurt. Outside of the Christian Laettner loss, I think this was probably the second most-bitter defeat that we have faced, because, you know when Mangok made that first free throw which shouldn’t have gone in, I said, we’re going to win this thing and for a span of a short period of time all I could think of was, ‘We just have to play defense for four seconds.” At first there was three-point-something, and they changed it. And I said all we’ve got to do is play defense for four seconds and we’re in the Final Four, because I was positive the second one would go in after that luck. And it didn’t go in. And we missed a lot of free throws down the stretch, a lot of layups down the stretch, and that’s the bad.
The bad is, they’ll be one team standing at the end, Michigan State will probably be very, very happy that they’re there, like we would have been. The other two will be disappointed. Only one is not disappointed, and that’s the nature of our beast. I’m sure the Seattle football team was very disappointed even though they got to the Super Bowl. As time passes, you start to appreciate what you have and not what you’d don’t have. But it does take time because the hurt stays there for quite some time.
We accomplished an awful lot this season. We wanted to get a double-bye and we accomplished that. We made up our mind about a month ago — I think we were 350 out of 351 in center production offensively, and that was a stat that Doug Davenport said, he’s a big stat guy. Then somebody else said, I tell you, we are one of the worst three-point shooting teams the country. And somebody else said, you know, we have really, really bad interior passing. And finally I stopped the meeting and said, guys what can we do? Because we just won 22 games. What can we do? Well, we give people problems with our defense and we confuse them. That’s not enough. You’re all right. Your statistical information is correct and you’re all right. But what can we do to get to a Final Four, because that’s our goal.
We felt at that point we had to create a lot of movement and create a large number of paint touches where we could get to the foul line or score. It couldn’t be with a jump shot. Because no matter what play we ran that led to a jump shot, we were going to shoot a low percentage, because we’re not a good outside shooting team. So we decided at that point, two weeks before the season ended, that it was going to be all paint touches. Move the ball side to side, throw it into the post, or reverse the ball, or dribble handoff and turn and go into the paint and get fouled. Unfortunately last night, we didn’t get fouled. And we missed a lot of shots, point blank at the basket. But the thing, as I look back at it, that I’m most proud of, most teams in that situation, everything going wrong, couldn’t have fought back and tied the score and put it into overtime. I’m really, really proud of that. Because it wasn’t going our way. We really had to fight hard.
And then I look at the bench, and now I can really laugh at it, because it was actually almost comical, and I said to the ref, is he (Izzo) going to pick who shoots the free throw? He’s going to pick Nanu or Matz. And he said, no, you get a chance to pick because of the blood situation. So as I go past the assistant coaches, I started looking at the team. Can’t put him in. Can’t put him in. Can’t put him in. And now I’m down to Levitch and Avare. I said, there’s something wrong with this picture. I said I could put Levitch in, possibly he’ll make it. Avare is going to have a heart attack if I even attempt to put him in. But I know he can shoot free throws. So I said, Dylan, and I watched him, I’ve never seen a whiter human being in my life. And he goes to the line, makes it, plays great defense, and when I took him out of the game, you could actually see his shirt moving where his heart was beating. I said, how do you feel, he said, ‘I’ll get through it.’ It was a very tense moment, but very comical, that someone could step to the line like that, make that free throw, then come out of the game and I’ve never seen anybody with as much anxiety and stress as that, but he came through for us at that moment.
So as we leave, we had to find a way to win, and when I said to you earlier in the year there’s just been so many problems, I wasn’t talking about the problems of the normal modern-day athlete who you have to deal with on a daily basis, I was talking about the problems of how to score, but we were able to get it done. We were able to get it done with paint touches. Now going forward, we have got to do something about our shooting problems. And there’s only one way to do it. We obviously have to improve Quentin Snider because he shoots a line drive shot even on his free throws, as you witnessed last night. We’ve got to create arc on his shot. And we have got to bring in players who can shoot the basketball.
The difference between Michigan State and Louisville wasn’t only the missed free throw, the difference was the three-point line, and they could make it and we couldn’t. In our style, it’s imperative that we are able to shoot the basketball, so we’ve got to bring in some guys. Some guys are probably going to leave, and we’ve got to bring in some guys that can shoot the basketball. We have targeted the people that we’re after. We feel good about it. There’s two ways we can go right now. We can go this way, or it’s going to be a year or two of rebuilding. Well, I don’t want to rebuild. We’ve come too far, Final Fours, Elite Eights, and I don’t want to rebuild. I want to reload. And in order to do that we’ve got to get people with high character, who can shoot the basketball. We’re intending on going right to work on that. From a skill standpoint we’re going to work today in individual instruction, all the way through as time permits. We have a summer foreign tour we can take.
The other thing I was real proud of about the game was it ended with Wayne Blackshear at his finest moment. And I’ve told it to all of you what I thought of the way he practiced. But here’s a kid who went out there, with arc on his shot, with confidence, you had to see halftime. We came in, everybody’s all excited with the way we’re executing and playing, then all of a sudden in the middle of it he goes to the trash can and goes on a 6 or 7-minute vomiting episode. All of us were just stunned by this. Thank God halftime is so long. He kept saying I’m okay, and then he’d come back and go to the pail again. He did it three times. Then he went out and started bleeding from his nose and we put something in it. It was his finest hour, so to speak, because he was sick, he fought through it, he played an unbelievable game, he’s 12-12 from the line, his shot looked great, he was posting up, it was a great way to cap off a career. When he got on the bus, I said, ‘You know son, I’m sorry we lost and went down. But you’ve been a pleasure to coach every minute of the four years I’ve been here, and I thank you for that.’ That’s verbatim what I said, and I really meant every word of that. So there’s good and bad in every situation, but now we’ve got to keep our program at the level where we’re at, and in order to do that we’ve really got to recruit some offensive basketball players.
The guys coming back are all going to be good basketball players. I’m very bullish on Jaylen Johnson. Matz and Anas both have a long way to go but they both have a lot of potential. Certainly Quentin Snider filled in admirably when we had a problem, but he’s got to get markedly better. He’s got to get better on defense, he’s got to get better with his arc on his jump shot, he’s got to get quicker, but I know he’ll do it because he’s a gym rat. Mangok had a very difficult year. Missed a lot of point-blank layups, missed the shot, but his attitude is by far the best on the team. He’ll come out of it. He’ll work very, very hard, and he’ll be better for the experience that he just had.
I think a couple guys will transfer. I’m not against that, what were there last year, three hundred-some transfers. Everybody can’t play the minutes they want to play. So we expected it before the end of the season and they don’t see themselves playing a whole lot next year. As a coach, you’re for that; you want guys to play. Akoy wanted to play, fine with it, if the next one wants to play, fine with it. Some guys are okay playing 7-8 minutes a game, other guys want to play 27 minutes a game. So we understand that, it’s part of what it’s all about today.
On if he was pleased with Chinanu Onuaku’s progress
No, I wasn’t. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s young, he’s got to make improvements in his attitude and his work ethic, he’s got to make improvements in a lot of areas. But he’s capable of doing it.
On Harrell and Rozier leaving
They’re both leaving, yes. 100 percent. And it’s the right thing to do for both of them. Now, you all may have some doubts about Terry. I don’t. There are certain situations. . .Terry looks at home and he sees his mom working two jobs, 16-17 hours a day. And he says, okay, maybe I won’t be drafted as high as I would be if I waited one more year, but I’d rather sacrifice that for my mom not having to work two jobs. So we all can make these judgments about it, but you don’t walk in his shoes, so it’s very difficult. Like I told him, ‘The game before (NC State) didn’t get you drafted any higher and the poor game you just played didn’t get you drafted any lower. You’re going to workouts and you’ll have to perform. And I believe he will.
On fifth-year transfers
You have an idea who the fifth-year guys are, you have no idea if they’ll transfer or not. But it only takes one or two to help your program and we’re in dire need of help right now. We have a lot of bodies who can bang, rebound, block shots, but we don’t have a lot of guys who can score, and we’ve got to have scorers. We’ve got to have guys who can shoot the basketball. And when you look back on it, kind of amazed that just paint touches and confusing defenses could get us to the point. . .I mean, we should have been in the Final Four. We should have been there and we weren’t. And believe me it will take a long time to go away.
On the 1997 title game vs. Arizona
Well, you know, I partially blame myself a little bit for that one because I could have played Derek Anderson. He would have guarded Miles Simon and yes, Nazr missed seven free throws in overtime, but it was up to me — I could have played Derek Anderson. I cost us the championship there, but I just couldn’t live with myself if he got hurt. I know he was medically cleared and I know his knee was strong, but he’s getting ready for the (NBA) draft and oftentimes when you come back from an injury like that and you’ve only practiced three times with your team, you often injure some other part of your anatomy and I just didn’t want to risk that because if he got hurt he wasn’t getting drafted in the lottery or wherever he got drafted.
On recruiting shooters but still defending well
Quentin’s not a good defender, but he tried to defend the way we wanted. As long as the effort’s there, that’s all you care about. We know Q’s gonna get beat, so we know how to rotate. As long as you give great effort, that’s what defense is all about. When you don’t give great effort, then there’s a problem.
More on Snider
He had a bad game last night because his shot was flat. That’s his biggest weakness, everything else. . .I think he improved considerably when he lost eight pounds. He had terrible eating habits. Terrible. He ate the worst food in the world, eats like a teenager. When he was 182 he was slow. He got down to 173 and it made a big difference from a quickness standpoint. And he improved at the offensive end and the defensive end, so we’ve got to keep him down like that and really work on his jump shot. He’s very skilled. Got to work on him talking once in awhile, too, communicating.
On Jaylen Johnson
I think very high. He’s got a great attitude. Jaylen’s biggest problem is conditioning. He’s not a well-conditioned athlete, so we’ve got to work on that. He’s got great upside. He’s got a body that can really get big. He’s got very good skills. He’s got a very good attitude for the game. He’s a tough kid — nothing like Q. The Final Four stages and the Elite Eight stages won’t bother him.
On Shaqquan Aaron
I don’t know about that one. Don’t know. I haven’t seen enough to like yet. It’s a wait and see. He came in late. He’s got a bad body. He’s not thrilled with the weight room, just until the last month he got serious about it. He needs a makeover.
On Anton Gill
I don’t know about Anton as well. I just don’t know right now. I’ve got to talk with these guys first before I can comment on that.
On Terry Rozier’s knee issues
Did that affect him the game before when he was awesome? No I don’t buy into that. I’m sure he does but I don’t think that affected his great game the night before or his subpar game … I didn’t notice anything, no. And the trainer never said anything to me.
On the incoming freshmen
This is the best freshmen class that we’re bringing in, coming in this year. I think Donovan Mitchell is, without question, physical and mentally ready to play. I’m positive of that. He’s a unique attitude.
Deng Adel is one of the top players in the country. I’ve got to wait and see on him. Ray Spalding needs a lot of strength and work.
On the summer tour
I don’t know if we’re going to the Bahamas yet. We’re working on a number of different…Could be the British Virgin Islands. Could be Barbados. It’s going to be someplace nice. It could be Puerto Rico if we can get a clause in their waiver for that.
On adding more players
I don’t know who’s leaving and who’s staying. You never know until the end. I’ve got to sit down with the players. Definitely one. It could be as many as three.
On fifth-year transfers
We’re also looking at junior college players as well. How difficult is the process? It’s like a one-and-done for mature basketball players. It’s guys that have been through the programs. Someone taking a step higher. Someone with a change of atmosphere.
Until they have a release. I really don’t know who they are yet. I have an idea. There’s about five or six that are being talked about.
On the Final Four
I think it’s going to be an awesome Final Four. Honestly, someone asked me that last night, I couldn’t tell you who is going to win this thing. The obvious 4-5 favorite is Kentucky. They’ve answered the bell for an undefeated season. But last year the Wisconsin game came down to…
You know every year that Kentucky comes down to it, that kid — one of those twins — keeps hitting a shot 10 feet past that 3-point line. And he’s done it now four times. That is truly remarkable. He’s 10 feet behind that line. With the game on the line, crucial moments, that kid has nailed it. That is an unbelievable thing for anybody to do, any athlete to do. He’s quite a young basketball player.
On Notre Dame
They had the style of play that we all thought they would play: use the clock, try to beat them with the 3, try to beat them with backdoors. But they couldn’t guard them. Karl Towns, at the end, just had his way with catching the ball and putting it in.
It came down to — it’s Aaron, right, that hit the shot? It came down to Aaron, once again, putting that nail in the coffin at that moment, even though Karl Towns was unbelievable.
Well they played them last year to the wire, until the dagger hit again. Somebody’s going to get in that kid’s jock from half court. I don’t know if it was him or his brother, who’s the one that got fouled? (Andrew). He also has a unique ability, with the game on the line they to try and get him fouled. They’ve got the great parts, no question about it. But they’re going to go against two teams. The first round will be very tough. And then Duke-Michigan State. Michigan State beats you different way, possibly. There’s three great teams there and one very hard-working team.
On if he’d bet against Kentucky
The only time I bet is horses. And I’m down about three million dollars.
On if he’ll attend the Final Four
I’m going on Sunday. But I’m not going to the game. I’m going just to speak to all my UK friends.
On viewing their NCAA tournament run
It was a remarkable thing to watch the evolution in a very short span because I wanted it badly, not only for Wayne and Montrezl and Terry, but I wanted the young guys, six of them, to see how much fun it can be if you work hard and get to this point. And we’re four seconds away making it happen, but we got to that stage. It was really, really important for our program to stay at that level, because a lot of programs get on a great run and go to the NIT. We didn’t do that. We stayed at that level. We don’t want to slip, and we don’t want to make an excuse — ‘well, we lost too many players, we lost all our players’ — we don’t want to do that. We want to stay at the level we’re at.
Our schedule next year, we have to go to Kentucky. We have to go to Duke. We have to go to Virginia. I’m sure we’ll be on the road for the Big Ten Challenge. Look, we’re always going to have the type of season — we’re going to have the type of season next year that we had this year. We’re going to have some losses, but as long as we, come March, become a great basketball team … It was fun to see. From the Irvine game, a freshman, the pressure that young man’s under, to grab a rebound, make the free throws, do all those things. Then, with five minutes to go in the NC State game, to see the guys play like that and see them fight back against Michigan State was an enormous thing, but it still hurts.
No matter how many times you look at the Duke and Kentucky game, and he turns around and makes that shot — I’ve seen it over 150 times from commercials — but it still hurts.
On the crowd at the Carrier Dome
From what people told me, it was 10-12,000 vs. 500. I don’t know where they came from, Michigan State, because there aren’t many Michigan State alums in New York. I don’t know — I guess it’s about a seven- or eight-hour drive. I was blown away with that. I don’t complain that our fans weren’t there. I’m very appreciative of the 500 who showed up. That’s the way I look at it. I’m sure it cost a lot of money for those fans to get there, but it didn’t bother me as much because we’re a good road team. It was about 10-12,000 vs. 500. I couldn’t believe how much green was in there last night. I didn’t realize they travel as well as they do. That was very, very impressive, because I know there’s not a lot of Michigan State alumni.
On Montrezl Harrell
Montrezl is a unique athlete. He had a great first half. He had a great tournament. He had a fun three years here. He experienced a lot of great moments. We’re very appreciative of his hard work. He improved. He came back to work on his skills and he got the opportunity to do that. That’s what it’s all about. He’ll be ready, emotionally, for the NBA.
On Richard Pitino and potential job interest
I don’t know officially. He knows not to talk to me about that during the tournament. (The tournament’s been over 12 hours.) I know, but I don’t think my children will talk to me for about 48 hours. They want no part of me right now, but I don’t know how to answer that. I will call him tomorrow.
On Scott Davenport
You know, Division II coaches don’t get a whole lot of looks. The head coach of Missouri got a look because he went to school there. It would have to be some affiliation that Scotty would have because they don’t usually look at Division II (coaches). If I were an AD, I’d hire him in a second because of what he’s done. Scotty has not only made it fun offensively, but he got a lot better defensively. That’s what that program needed, to get better defensively, and he did it this year. Unfortunately he was an unlucky shot away from doing it again.
On the 2015-16 schedule
Every game but one (is done). We have one to go … The Big Ten Challenge, you know at Kentucky … the good thing is we’re not going to play a high-profile team (in the Big Ten Challenge) because we’ll be reloading. We’re not going to be high in the pecking order.
On Terry Rozier
He’s an explosive guy in the open court. He plays very well with a 24-second clock. He’s very quick defensively. He’s a good NBA guard.