NEW YORK – I caught up with Louisville coach Rick Pitino, soon to be a Hall of Famer, at the New York Athletic Club, where he and Geno Auriemma were getting their Winged Foot Awards, and got his thoughts on the new league, UConn, etc.
His Cardinals will be defending their national championship in the AmeriCon next season, but only for one year. The school, which is ACC-bound, was not represented at the league meetings this week.
How will Pitino approach coaching under such unusual circumstances?
“It’s like my life,” he said. “I may have one year to live. I’m writing a book right now, it’s called ‘One Year Contract.’ That’s the way the last three years of my life have been, I’ve got a one year contract. I’m going to enjoy myself, I’m going to coach as if I have one day to live. … That being said, it’s a little awkward.”
Pitino’s take on the AAC:
“It’s going to be much better than people anticipate because there are four teams that are going to be in the top 20: Memphis, Connecticut, Louisville – three of the four for sure and Cincinnati in the Top 25 if not the Top 20. And that’s not including Temple, I don’t know how good they’re going to be.
“… It could be a great league, like a very good Conference USA – back in the old days when Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette and South Florida were in it. It was a very good league – there were eight tremendous teams in that league.”
On Kevin Ollie:
“I’m a tremendous fan of Kevin as a person, I’ve always been, since he tried out with us [with the Celtics]. Then I became a tremendous fan of the way he coaches. He’s different than Jim [Calhoun], but he has learned from Jim. … I just think he’s got a great way about him, he has got a humility about him … you can’t do what he did in the NBA unless you have tremendous toughness. These kids that are playing for him wish they had his toughness. To get to be Kevin Ollie, you’ve got to be humble and tough like none of these athletes are today.”
With everyone back, including its experienced guards, how good can UConn be next season?
“It all depends on their motives. I had Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, and their motives were to go back to the Final Four and win a championship. They had individual motives to do well themselves, but it was all about Louisville first. If [the Huskies’] motives are to become pros, they’ll just be a good team. If their motives are to bring UConn to a Final Four, then they’ll be a great team. … But [players’] motives – that, you never know. They can BS you and tell you the answers you want. But deep down, if their motives are UConn first, and what we want to accomplish second, then they’ll accomplish both. They’ll go where they want to go as a team and they’ll look much better.”
There’s more from my chats with Pitino and Geno Auriemma here, and in the Thursday Courant.