PITINO: Well, I’ll tell you basically what I tell the team is basically buckle your seat belts because it’s gonna be one helluva ride in the ACC. It reminds me so much of the Big East in its prime in terms of, you know, you see it going one way, then all of a sudden you see now you have Virginia and Clemson near the top, you see Georgia Tech playing real well. Syracuse looks like they’re out of it, now they get hot. Duke loses three, Virginia loses three and then suddenly the thing’s upside down, and then it will turn back. It will be a roller coaster ride that will drive fans and coaches crazy, but it will be a lot of fun playing this type of competition, needless to say.
Q: Is it even more unpredictable than you thought going in?
PITINO: I knew it. You guys didn’t know it. I don’t think anybody expected Virginia Tech to be this good, or Clemson to be this good. I sorta knew Georgia Tech was gonna be good because they had everybody returning and they improved their shooting. You never know with freshmen, like Florida State, I didn’t know they were gonna be this good this early. Some things you just can’t predict. And I think that’s true of the Big Ten; I think they’re saying the same thing, with Iowa and Indiana near the top. In college basketball in every conference it’s interesting this year more than other years.
Q: Have you noticed more 3-point shooting because of the new shot clock rule?
PITINO: Duke shoots a lot of threes. If you give me another team I could give you a better judgment, but Duke shoots that all the team. Got a different team?
PITINO: Syracuse isn’t a 3-point shooting team, but the young man had an unbelievable rebounding night. I think the shot clock has a little bit to do with it, but I think there’s more driving than ever before because you can’t put hands on people.
Q: What has Florida State been doing well?
PITINO: Beasley, Bacon, the point guard has great experience and they take you off the bounce as well as anybody in the league. They’ve got terrific one-on-one talent and to go along with that they have great size. These aren’t typical guards, they have great size and length, and of course, they can bring in some size (off the bench) as well.
Q: How do you think Nanu will fare going against a guy who’s 7-3? (Boris Bojanovsky)
PITINO: We’ll find out. I don’t know how to answer your question. He hasn’t gone against that many guys like that and he’s a much different player this year than last year. We’ll find out, I guess, tomorrow night.
He’s one of the leaders of the team. Last year he was a lost young freshman trying to feel his way around. He’s just a different guy; he’s learned to work hard, he’s got a good threshold for work now that he didn’t have. Certain freshmen go through that
Q: Can this team keep up the defensive progress they showed vs. Pitt?
PITINO: I think anytime you have a totally new basketball team every game’s a journey. I don’t think you can say that just because they played great defense against Pitt it’s always gonna be there. I think this is a new basketball team that’s learning. I think they took a lot of pride in what they did last game in terms of their defense and they feel good about it. But now they’re gonna go against a different type of basketball team in terms of one-on-one ability.
Q: Does their attention to the scouting report carry over to this scouting report?
PITINO: I don’t know what to say about this team except I know they’ll give great effort. It’s a guessing game, outside of Nanu, who’s gonna play well. At the defensive end, I’m talking about. Ray and Jaylen, scouting reports to them, they have a difficult time with those. It takes the game moving along for them to get a good feel for what’s being done. Mango was very good, but he’s out another three, weeks, so we’ve got to get these guys ready.
Q: People have already started talking about NCAA (tournament) resumes and that kind of thing. Is there any value in that right now?
PITINO: I just think that this is gonna be a bumpy ride for everybody in the ACC, everyone is gonna have a few bumps in the road, and what we’ve got to do is take care of business at home. We’ve got to try to split the road and just keep getting better. I think all the talk in January about that just makes no sense at all. Now, I think come mid-February. . .but whose on the bubble in January is absurd talk, they’re just filling up time. They have a lot of ad time and you’ve got to fill it up with something, so Joe Lunardi becomes the most popular man in sports because he fills up the time. I was watching a game the other night on the road and they were talking about who’s in and who’s out in the Atlantic 10 and it’s January 15th. But I guess you got to do it.
Q: How does Florida State value the 3-pointer?
PITINO: I think the 3-point shot, excluding Duke because that’s their offense. They shoot a lot of threes consistently. I think teams do what the defense is gonna give you. If they double the post, you pass out of it and the three is there. . .it’s what you give a team. If they decide to give it, you have to obviously take it the right way. We don’t concern ourselves with taking numbers of threes, but other teams have guys they go to in that situation. We don’t necessarily do that.
Q: With Trey Lewis, what do you say to him as he’s struggling shooting?
PITINO: I don’t think he is struggling shooting. I don’t think Damion Lee and Trey Lewis — the reason, if you take their percentages or why their shots don’t go in, I think they’re bad shots. I think good shooters that take good shots don’t struggle. I think both of guys are taking challenged 3s and they’re less than 10 percent, and that’s — if they take good shots, they’ll shoot a high percentage. If they take bad shots, they’ll shoot a low percentage. So they’re getting the penalties of taking some bad shots.
Q: And you say that (to them)?
PITINO: I make them watch it. That’s the best way to teach, you know, watch yourself taking a challenge shot. They watch in practice as well. I’ll say it in practice — ‘That’s a challenged shot. That’s not going in’ — as the shot’s in the air, and it doesn’t go in.
Q: How do they react to that? Do they cringe? Do they get it?
PITINO: No, it’s just a matter of, they’re new, and they’ve taken challenged shots all their lives. Now they’re playing against quicker, bigger, better competition.
Q: There’s been an increase in the number of foreign-born players each of the past five years, to the point now where there’s more than 500 playing in Division I. Why do you think that’s been the case, and in that time period, do you feel that coaching staffs and the NCAA have done a better job of trying to verify eligibility concerns and try and set players up to succeed when they get here?
PITINO: I have no idea how to answer that. I have no idea.
Q: In your case, have there been systems that you try and set up with the foreign-born players that you’ve brought in to acclimate them, help them succeed?
PITINO: We contact the Norwegian consulate and we just ask them if there are any players available for us. And the Egyptian consulate. Now that we’ve got Africa lined up, and it’s in our corner, we have Africa, Norway and Egypt. We’ll just try some of the other countries coming up.
Q: (VJ King got selected for the McDonald’s All-American game.) I know you don’t worry about rankings and all that but, for him, that’s a nice honor for him and the program.
PITINO: You’re right, I don’t care about it. I’m sure it’s a great honor for VJ and he’s very excited about it, I’m sure. We’re just very excited to have VJ whether he made McDonald’s or Burger King or whatever team. We’re just very excited to have VJ.
Q: If the UNLV rumor with your name attached to it was brought to your attention —
PITINO: Next question, guys. Anybody have a basketball question about Florida State? I’ll be glad to answer it. But please don’t talk about job openings in January.
Q: Damion Lee. Last game was one of his most active all-around. Is that a product of what happened at Clemson and taking a look at what he needs to do?
PITINO: If you take the statistics of how many challenged shots they took in that game, it’s going to ruin their percentage. But we know, in practice, both of those guys are really good shooters. If they have an open look, they’re going to shoot better than 50 percent. It’s just that that one game, they shot themselves out of having a good percentage, but that being said, they learned their lessons from that game and I was really, really impressed with the way Damion Lee played defense against Pittsburgh. Really impressed. That was a great performance, and as you know, he won the MVP (of the game).
Q: Of the players you’ve seen from October until now, who’s made the most progress?
PITINO: You don’t see it, but without question it’s Matz (Stockman). You don’t see it because I don’t play him. He has some offensive practices that are very impressive, and (Chinanu Onuaku) can’t stop him. Matz cannot stopped in the low post unless you go after him with other players, and that’s very impressive to me. You may say, ‘Well, why aren’t you playing him more?’ He’s just not game-ready, right now, in terms of defense. Anas (Mahmoud) is more game-ready than he is, but he’s the heir apparent to that position. We work with him very hard for the future. That doesn’t mean, if Nanu gets in foul trouble, we’d be afraid to throw him in, he’ll more than hold his own.
Q: I think Seth Greenberg talked about he was surprised by your (team’s) length, that you’re causing or can cause more matchup problems because of your length.
PITINO: Well, if Seth said it, it must be true.
Q: Is that a real asset for you guys in terms of defense?
PITINO: Without a doubt.
It’s my sarcasm day. It’s my New York sarcasm day. I really mean it. I just don’t know how to answer certain questions about foreign-born players. We don’t really put a lot of thought into that. We really don’t. We have to be tipped off to something like that. We got very lucky with Anas (Mahmoud). We traveled to Spain to see Matz, came away knowing he was a project. The great thing about the Gorgui Diengs and Mangok (Mathiang) and Matz and Anas is what great people they are, totally unspoiled by AAU basketball in terms of the name on the back. It’s a pleasure to coach those guys. It really is. It’s a pleasure to coach them. As long as I’m here, we’re going to continue, and hopefully we get tipped off on more African players and more foreign players. I hope he get tipped on them because they’re a delight to coach. Now, that being said, sometimes they take a little bit longer because they haven’t experienced that AAU competition at a young age, but that’s OK as well.
Q: Do you get calls from people saying, ‘I’ve got the next so-and-so down here’?
PITINO: Well, generally, the way it works, like Gorgui has done so well that if there’s a player from Senegal, he’s going to think about Louisville because of Gorgui. If there’s a player from Australia, then Mangok and Deng are doing well, they’ll think about Louisville. If there’s a player from Virginia Tech doing well, then they’ll think about Virginia Tech. It’s sort of the success the players have in the program, it’s no different like having a kid like Russ Smith from New York. He does so well a lot of New York guards would be interested because Russ did well. It’s pretty much the same if your players have that type of success.
Q: For Onuaku, what kind of progress do you think he’s made?
PITINO: You know, I think for a sophomore, he’s done remarkably well. He’s improved in most areas. I think he still has to learn the new rules better, in terms of screening. He’s got to get near the basket more, because he’s such a lethal weapon. He’s got to stop roaming on the perimeter. He’s got to get to the basketball. That being said, I don’t think I could be any happier with Nanu as a sophomore. He’s given us everything he has. And you know, we’d like to see him play 28 minutes minimum, per game, but some games he just doesn’t. And they’re not good fouls. Sometimes, like Wayne Blackshear, he was just the product of getting so many bad calls against him. You watch the film and you say, ‘He didn’t touch him.’ He was just unluky. But Nanu’s fouls are offensively.
Q: Has Deng’s attitude helped him as he tries back to get into basketball mode behind Damion?
PITINO: Yeah, I think an American player would say look, I need to get my minutes, and everybody around him would be telling him you need to get your minutes. Deng sees he’s not playing real well right now and he sees Damion, so he’s just trying to learn. I texted him the other night on the way home and said, listen, son, don’t get discouraged, don’t get down about your minutes. He immediately texted me back and said, coach, we won the game, I’m not even concerned about that. I don’t think too many American-born players would have that type of response, but he did. And that’s the great thing about the (foreign) guys, they understand the goal. Like Gorgui always understood the goal of where he wanted to get. It wasn’t about today, it’s about the learning process. Learn, get better, improve, and everything will take care of itself. I was visiting with him the other night and it’s the same Gorgui, the same one. Like Richard said, Gorgui, don’t even try to reach in your pocket because we know that’s not happening. So same Gorgui.
Q: I don’t know if this is fair to say — but players here grow up dreaming of getting to the NBA, do the foreign-born guys, can it be said they grow up dreaming of getting to college basketball?
PITINO: They have a goal to get to the NBA, but they’re not in a rush with that process. They want to go there, and they want to be ready to make their second contract. They want to be good enough. Gorgui knew he was ready as a junior, and he was very patient about it. He knew it. And, you now, they’re not looking for that instant gratification. They want to get there and they want to stick and get to their second contract. At least Gorgui did, and I know Deng is the same way. He’s very, very mature about the way he thinks. I think Anas is very mature about the way he thinks. And Matz is a different breed of cat altogether from those guys, but different in a good way.
Q: What do you make of just the uncertain nature of the landscape in college basketball right now?
PITINO: You guys know as much about that as I do. I just think it surprises me the losing streaks, the winning streaks. It looks like Syracuse is not playing well, and all of a sudden they’re playing great. Looks like Clemson is not playing well, and all of a sudden they’re playing great. It just surprises you. You know, looks like Seton Hall, in the Big East, because we root for Kevin Willard so much, they have a tough loss against Creighton, then they turn around have a great win at Providence. Iowa does it to Michigan State. It’s a crazy year in college basketball. Certainly, I think Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kansas are three dominating basketball teams from that conference. Right now, seems like North Carolina is the dominating team in our conference, early, five games into our schedule. In the Big East, Villanova is the dominating team right now and everybody is fighting for position to go after them. And the Big Ten is a little like us, all fighting for position but I don’t think anybody would say that Iowa has been that dominating. It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. It’s nerve-wracking. You just have to play every game like it’s the last game on your schedule, and see where we all, come March, where we’re going to be. But we’re all going to be fighting, come March, for wins.
Q: With Mangok off crutches, how would you assess his recovery?
PITINO: Well Kenny shouldn’t be releasing that type of information. (Laughing Klein: “You said it on your radio show.”) I don’t know why he Tweets. I guess he wants our fans to know things. The way it works, this is the type of injury, in all seriousness, with certain, like an ankle sprain, we were shocked, and so was the trainer, that Trey Lewis could come back as quickly. But with this injury, it’s pretty much going to go the course. He’s not going to be able to come back any quicker. They exactly thought at this time when they X-rayed it that he would be off crutches in a walking boot, and he was. And the scarring builds up. They’ll take it next week. The bad thing about this injury, unlike other injuries, he can’t get on the court at all. So it’s going to take him a lot longer to get back basketball-wise. I honestly believe it won’t be until March, the end of February, March, where he’ll be in good shape. Now he’ll learn to be a swimmer. He’ll get into the pool. That’s the only way you can do this injury, is swimming, because it truly has to heal. It has to be a minimum of 6 weeks before he can step on the basketball court. So I think it’s been slightly over three, so he’s got another three weeks before he gets on a basketball court. Now maybe in another week he starts shooting and free-throws in a boot, but we’re looking at a long process. Now if we can continue to win, it’s a blessing in disguise, becuase it means we will have developed, Anas, Matz, Ray and Jalen. If we can continue to win, and that’s a big if.
Q: End of February before he can play at all, or play up to the level you want him to be playing?
PITINO: When is six weeks? So first week in February he’ll start stepping on the court. Then it’s going to take him another 10 days to two weeks just to step on a basketball court. What happens is he’ll hurt something else. He’ll pull a hamstring. You can’t play at this level, playing the way we play, coming off an injury like that. It’s going to take him a minimum of 10 days to get back. So that brings you into, you know, the third week in February. So you’re looking at the end of February, beginning of March.