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September 3, 2013
The purpose of the Labor Day press conference was for Rick Pitino to discuss his upcoming induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame, but he got around to talking about the 2013-14 version of his University of Louisville basketball team and had some interesting things to say.
Pitino gave an update on injured guard Kevin Ware, praised the Cardinals' trio of new guards, indicated that he has already more or less decided on a replacement for Gorgui Dieng at center and disputed rumors concerning reputed disciplinary action against several of his players.
Pitino didn't rule out Ware returning to action next season for his junior year, but he didn't sound confident that he would, either. Ware suffered a broken leg during UofL's win over Duke in the Midwest Regional championship game and has reportedly made good progress ... but not good enough for Pitino to make a definitive statement regarding his status for 2014.
"It's going to be awhile before he gets on the basketball court," Pitino said. "This is a very serious injury and we're going to take our time. I'm not saying we're going to redshirt him, but we're going to take our time. He's going to have to get his confidence back. He asked me the other day if I thought he should look at it on tape for the first time and I said, 'No reason to; I never did.'
"I actually don't think it will be as bad as Luke's (Hancock) or Wayne's (Blackshear) injury. Once a broken bone heals, it heals, but a shoulder you're afraid to draw a charge because you're afraid it might pop out again. But with Kevin it's just a broken bone. He won't start getting on the court til mid-October and then we'll see what he can do."
Admitting that Louisville fans might think he was getting carried away with hyperbole -- Pitino being Pitino in other words -- the coach heaped praise on freshman guards Terry Rozier and Anton Gill and junior college transfer Chris Jones, noting that they will ease the sting of Peyton Siva's departure to the Detroit Pistons of the NBA.
"I'll say this, I haven't been around three guards -- and I don't want to hype them up because you'll think I'm exaggerating -- like this in quite sometime in one class," Pitino said. "I couldn't tell you who's the best of the three. Terry Rozier is lights out and a very talented ballplayer. Anton Gill is a sponge to pick up things. He's very quick, very explosive. Chris, inch for inch, pound for pound, ounce for ounce, is about as tough a young man as I've ever seen.
"Now, that being said, all I've done is drills with them and watched them play a few times. They look very, very good. When you lose a guy like Peyton Siva, under normal circumstances that's a devastating loss, but these guys are so talented..."
As for replacing Dieng, now with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Pitino said 6-9 senior Stephan Van Treese has the inside track on 6-10 redshirt freshman Mangok (Mango) Mathiang.
"The key to our team this year is going to be how much can we develop Van Treese and Mango, that's going to be the key," Pitino said. "How much can we develop those two guys to step in and do some of the things Gorgui did for us.
"I think Van Treese will probably wind up starting the season in that spot. He's the most experienced, he's very, very strong, he is unselfish. The thing I want him to do is start looking at the basket more. He'll get the ball and just throw it out to one of the guys. He's the most popular guy on the team. He won't look at the basket and we want him to do that more."
Pitino also said that 6-8 freshman Akoy Agau has lost 25 pounds and gone from 19 percent body fat to nine percent "in a very short period of time, so he's really progressing well." Agau is listed at 235 pounds on the preseason roster.
Addressing scuttlebutt on the social media, Pitino denied that Ware, Chane Behanan and Mathiang have been suspended.
"Kevin Ware was never suspended from out basketball team. He was last year two games and so was Chane Behanan," Pitino said. "But Kevin is not suspended, Chane is not suspended, Mango is not suspended. I haven't suspended anybody. I've been having too much fun this summer to suspend anybody. I'm going to think about it the next few weeks, though (smiling).
"I'm not a big believer in suspending people. I've always run people, gotten them up early and run them. I think that's much better than suspending them. And if you really want to hurt a player, take away their phone. I took Edgar Sosa's phone away for two weeks and he was thinking of transferring. All this stuff isn't coming from us. I don't know where it's coming from or what it's all about. But right now everybody is fine, nobody is in trouble."
PITINO AND PETER PAN
Pitino, 60, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame Sunday in ceremonies to be televised live by NBA TV, starting at 2 p.m. at the Springfield (Mass) Symphony Hall.
Pitino guided UofL to the 2013 national championship, becoming the first coach to win titles at two different schools, having also won the trophy in 1996 at Kentucky. Others in the 12-member class include former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, former Houston coach Guy Lewis, Gary Payton and Bernard King.
Pitino chose former NBA coach and current television analyst Hubie Brown and ESPN analyst Dick Vitale as his presenters for the induction. Pitino was an assistant coach under Brown with the New York Knicks from 1983-85 and has known Vitale for decades.
Pitino says he hasn't thought much about the induction yet or started working on his speech.
"Not that I'm Peter Pan, but I really never want to feel old," he said. "Sometimes when you think about the Hall of Fame, you think Father Time is catching up with you, but I never want to think about it because then I would think my career is starting to close and I don't want to think that way."
Pitino's UofL contract extends to the 2022 season when he would be 70 years old. He was asked if he thinks he will stick around that long.
"Probably... I don't know if I can get to age 70," he said. "I'm not sure after eight years of coaching in the NBA if I can get to it. I'd love to get to it, but the one thing I know is I'm not thinking about it. I'm enjoying this now as much as any period in my life, which is great. The past three years have been as enjoyable as any period of my life, so that's great."