Rick Pitino previews NC State

Rick Pitino
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser

Rick Pitino had his press conference on Wednesday where he previewed NC State. He covered everything from Cat Barber to Mangok Mathiang to Ben Simmons to the Kansas-Oklahoma game from a few nights ago.

Opening statement

I think as you can see with this league probably right now there are 14 coaches saying, ‘OK, we’ve got a great shot at the NCAA.’ Last night Clemson shocks the ACC with a win at Syracuse. Clemson gave North Carolina, they could have won that game, late in the game. It’s a fascinating league. It does remind me Southern style of the Big East a few years ago when 11 teams got in, which makes it fun for everybody, especially for the fans, the players and everybody alike. If you can come away with a road victory at any point you have a leg up. You’ve got to win your home games. It’ll be a great year.

On playing on the road

It’s no different than playing on the road in any league. It’s very tough to win. You look at the programs with great tradition, they don’t lose too much at home. We’re going to be in a lot of close basketball games as most teams are in this league. You’ve got execute. We’re going over game plans right now where we have the best free throw shooters in the game at the end of the game. Making sure we cover all bases.

On Trey Lewis

He’s fine. Yeah, he practiced yesterday. He was fine.

On Mangok Mathiang

Originally he said 6-8 weeks. That’s pretty accurate with that type of injury. That’s not something that you rush. I think it’s been two and a half weeks now. I would say that six weeks would be accurate. Eight weeks is the doctor covering for himself.

On Cat Barber

I think Cat Barber is one of the premier guards in the nation and I say that not to hype him because we’re playing him. He is one of the players that really improved his shooting. He is shooting a high percentage, both from the foul line as well as the field. He’s a terrific mid-range shooter, great off the bounce and he’s also an excellent defensive player. When I look at a lot of basketball players, I look at both ends of the floor. He’s an outstanding charge guy, great hands, very long for 6-2. He’s someone that I think is one of the one or two — I won’t say someone’s the best because that’s subjective — but I think he’s one of the top two or three guards in the nation. It’s not only him. They shoot it so well at the 2-3 spot. You can’t come off too much. And they have a great post presence with two different type of post players.

On Barber playing a lot of minutes and wearing him down

Didn’t work too well at home last year, so I don’t think there is a whole lot. He’ll pace himself. We’ve got to be careful with a lot of things that we do in this basketball game. They’re great in transition. As I said they have a great outside game, a great inside game. Very well-drilled. Their scheme is outstanding. (NC State coach Mark Gottfried) does a terrific job with putting them in high-percentage situations offensively. They’re also very good defensive team.

On Barber getting to the foul line a lot

Not only does he shoot a high percentage, but he gets to the line. One of the tops in the country at getting to the line and then shooting a high percentage.

On Damion Lee benefiting from a tough game 

I think oftentimes coaches will say that Damion struggled. But let’s look at the reason he struggled. It’s not because so much Damion. Let’s give credit to Wake Forest’s defensive game plan. A lot of times running backs in football struggle because the linebackers and everybody in their scheme keys on them. You’ve got to go to other options. Oftentimes it’s not like he played poorly; it’s Wake Forest played terrific defense on him. You’ve got to give credit  where credit’s due. I think he learned the lesson he should have learned from Puerto Rico. He needs to, when he sees that type of situation, pass the basketball more, be a facilitator more and let the game come to him. That’s what he did learn.

On Kansas-Oklahoma

I felt going into that game that Kansas was maybe the deepest and most experienced team in the country. I won’t say the best because I haven’t seen everybody play. But I thought they were the deepest and most experienced. I didn’t realize Oklahoma is an isolation team. They isolate a lot of one-on-ones, isolates quite a bit. They’re great at it. That young man (Buddy Hield) just had an incredible night. They had great one-on-one basketball players, sort of like the Carmelo Anthony — catch it on the wing and they’re explosive and great at it. I could see either one of those teams in the Final Four, and I think there are a lot of really, really great teams. I wouldn’t say good. Everybody thinks there is great parity. But there are some outstanding basketball teams right now. Kansas is one. Oklahoma’s the other one. North Carolina is another one that, when I watch, it’s, ‘Wow, they’re really good.’

You know, everybody says you plan for March. You don’t really plan for March. You plan to get better now, so your young players are ready for March, and that’s the big question mark with us, you know — will Ray Spalding, will some of our younger guys be ready? It’s obvious that (Chinanu Onuaku) has really worked hard to elevate his game. Now will Ray Spalding do the same? Will Deng Adel do the same? And will they, come March, be a different basketball player? And that’s the big question with a lot of young basketball teams. It’s, when you look around, they’re really talented.

I was really impressed last night with Ben Simmons and why I think he’s so great, because he’s not typical of today’s athlete. Last night, national TV, everybody’s making a big deal, he just said, ‘Hey, my teammates are really playing well, let me get them shots. Let me move the basketball. It’s their night. They’re on fire.’ That’s something LeBron would do. You know, he sees his teammates are hot in certain situations and says let me get them the ball. He was often criticized — two or three years ago — because he passed the ball in crucial situations. Why didn’t he try to win the game? And I was really impressed with Ben Simmons, that he did that last night. That showed me that he’s just more than a great basketball player. He knew how to get his teammates into the game and make them better.

On how he watches those games, as a fan or as a coach

I was watching for sheer enjoyment. Now if it was a league game, I’d watch. I’d start, if I was watching Pittsburgh versus Georgia Tech, I would think about how we do it. But in that situation, no. Just enjoyment. It was really enjoyable.

On if he has a target road record in ACC play

With a young, inexperienced basketball team like ours, it’s not like — we were road warriors the past three or four years, and I’m not sure that this team is a road warrior team, we’re so new. That’s why I gave the goal I gave, to go undefeated at home and take what you can get on the road and hope for the best. So, to answer your question, no, there’s not.

On Ben Simmons and if his attributes are unusual for a freshman or just any player

I think for both. You know, he’s got that LeBron way about him. He enjoys the pass as much as the score. He’s improved. The one thing I looked at him in high school and said he’s not a real good defensive player. He’s gotten much better on defense, and LSU has done a terrific job with that with him. He’s now a really good defensive player, and he’s 6-9, 6-10, you know, I don’t his true height, but they list him at 6-9, 6-10, but he’s an amazing young man, has a great future ahead of him because he thinks the pass is fun. Any time I see a player that enjoys the pass as much as the score, you’ve got yourself a great player.

On how Onuaku has avoided foul trouble

Yeah, he didn’t set illegal screens.

On if he still set a lot of screens in the game

Yeah. Today, it’s the key of the person who is using the screen. (Pitino stands up for emphasis.) So, if Jeff is coming off of me, if he runs wide, I do this (moves sideways) because every coach yells, ‘Take the man out.’ But if Jeff runs wide, I do this (moves sideways) and that’s an illegal screen today. But if Jeff runs directly at me, and he can bump or come off me, then I won’t set an illegal screen, and I can be locked in my V. But they all go like this (slides over), and Matz (Stockman) did this the other day and said, ‘I didn’t touch him.’ But you look on film and Matz not only moved his upper body but his lower body. Referee made the right call. It’s a point of emphasis. Or, if I set a screen and roll into the man, they’re calling that as well. Outside of Big East basketball, it’s been called pretty accurately. Big East is a different level. When you watch Big East basketball, it’s not being called like the rest of the country, because I still enjoy watching that. Just in case we move back into the Big East and join our seventh conference.

On Damion Lee passing more

Not yet. But I assume he will, because he’s a great guy and wants to win. He just has a scorer’s mentality, and you want that, but you know, if he got five or six assists a game, sometimes I’d enjoy that as well.

On if the NCAA’s rules changes have made the game more appealing

I think it has for all of us watching. You now see 85-, 90-point games. You know, the other night, with us and Wake Forest, sometimes you don’t make your free throws and you see low-scoring games. But I think the whole country’s scoring more points. There’s better plays. There’s guys moving at the arc, not guys going into dunk the ball afraid that somebody’s going to come under them. So there’s a lot of positive changes to the game, and it’s helping our brand. (Kansas-Oklahoma) the other night was fabulous. You’re seeing a lot of high-scoring games, and you see more talent and you see more guys that we didn’t recognize had that type of talent because they can do more things with freedom of movement. Now, it still has to get better. There’s still, like the other night, it was a well-officiated basketball game both ways. It was very physical. There was nothing wrong with that kind of physicality, because it didn’t impede from the offensive scoring, and the officials have judgments with that. That’s what they’ve got to do. If they set illegal screens, or they use their forearm, those are the things you don’t want to see. You want to see a cutter cut. You want to see a guy going in for a layup without somebody taking them out.

On if he’s changed his coaching for the new rules

What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to blow the whistle in practice all the time. Like yesterday, I called seven illegal screens on (Onuaku). Seven. I said, ‘You can’t do that.’ In his mind, it’s only practice. I said, ‘No, no, it’s repetition, son. You’re going to get called for that.’ If you’re on the press and you’re denying and somebody puts their hands on a guy, you’ve got to call it right away, so they’ll stop doing it, and it becomes a good habit.

On if he wears a whistle in practice

I wear a microphone and I call the fouls. As you can see my voice is great right now.

On Donovan Mitchell

I think certain freshmen have no fear, and he has no fear of — places like here, Kentucky, Kansas and Carolina and Duke, you know, you step in and it’s sold out and it’s overpowering and the lights are on and then you go on the road and people are saying things about your sister and mother and cousin for the first time and you’re, ‘What’s going on here?’ You feel like you’ve stepped into the gladiator’s building and you’ve got to just get a little used to it and it takes certain players a little more. But Donovan, the bright lights don’t bother him at all.

On getting Onuaku the ball

The great thing about him, and what our players realize — they realized it with Gorgui (Dieng) — is if you threw Gorgui the ball and you cut, 50 percent of the time you’re going to get it back. The same thing with Nanu. If you throw Nanu the ball and you cut, he’s a person that gets just as much enjoyment out of the assist as he does the score. So, our players are learning that, and the other night, in the first half, they did it. Now, to his fault, he didn’t post as much in the second half because he was a little winded. If he would’ve posted up more, they would get him the ball, because they like throwing him the basketball.

More on Donovan Mitchell

I think I told you the story about him. My son called me up and him and his Georgetown friends, they live in Greenwich, Conn., and I lived not far from Greenwich, Conn., when I was the Knicks coach. And Greenwich, Conn., is one of the most affluent areas in the United States. And Ryan said to me, ‘All my friends from Greenwich tell me that this kid’s a terrific player. You need to take a look at him.’ And I said, ‘I can assure you of one thing, son. There are no basketball players in Greenwich, Conn. If you told me lacrosse, I would say yes.’ So I never really checked him out, or paid attention to it, because it’s a bunch of roommates from my son, and so I wasn’t exactly looking at professional evaluators. So, that summer, Kenny Johnson said to me, ‘You know, you need to check out this kid.’ I said, ‘Where’s he from?’ He said, ‘Greenwich, Conn.’ I said, ‘What’s his name?’ And he said, ‘Donovan Mitchell.’ And I said, ‘Oh, don’t say that. My son is going to kill me.’ So I went to watch him and Villanova was on him strong, Providence was on him strong, and Indiana were the three schools going after him strongest. And I said, ‘Man, I love this kid.’ I called my son and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’ He said, ‘I told you dad. Why didn’t you check him out?’ I said, ‘Because you work on Wall Street.’

So when I did check him out, I fell in love with him right away. But every game I saw him play, he did things where my mouth was open. Like on one play, they took the ball out on the sideline, and they ran an out-of-bounds play where they just threw it up at the rim and out he comes, from nowhere, and dunks the ball. He’s an unbelievable jumper off two feet, and he’s a fair jumper off one foot. It’s the strangest thing, but some players do that. But he’s a freak off two feet. I think he’s going to be a heck of a basketball player and have a great career for us.

On Mitchell pointing for alley-oops

I think they know he can jump, so he doesn’t have to point anymore, especially in the game — I don’t know who the announcers were — they said, ‘He’s pointing but Trey Lewis has got to learn to not throw the ball 10 feet over the backboard.’ (Quentin Snider) is a little better at it than Trey.

On Maverick Rowan

He’s got a scorer’s mentality, like Damion. He’s got excellent range. Good foul shooter. And he’s got good size. He’s 6-5 1/2, 6-6, legit 6-6.

On if kids think anything about playing programs that recruited them

They don’t think about it and neither do we. We recruited Cat Barber. We’re all recruiting the same guys. So, it’s musical chairs, basically. Right now, I think every guy we’re in on is a junior or sophomore and the entire ACC is in on them. But the only ones a little different sometimes are Syracuse or Boston College will concentrate a little bit more in the Northeast.

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