Rick, Russ And Trez Talk AAC Championship

Joe Murphy

COACH PITINO: We're super excited to win our third straight championship. To win a regular season championship and a tournament championship back-to-back is not easy. You have to have special players and these two epitomize exactly that. We played great defense tonight for most of the night. We didn't have it offensively. You generally can tell when we play well because we have 17 to 25 assists. We weren't passing the ball like we have been.

We had a great run in February, a great run in March and everybody knows about the press and everybody knows about talent, but what's made us special is our passing and tonight we didn't have the passing, the passing wasn't there.

That was the greatest thing I told the guys in winning the championship. You learned the most valuable lesson why you didn't click for forty minutes offensively because the passing wasn't there with only 11 assists. But these two guys were spectacular, Montrezl is similar to Gorgui, he came in a very good athlete and he will leave us someday as a very good basketball because his passing and shooting skills may be the smartest player on the team in terms of a scouting report, certainly no words to describe Russ Smith. He just is having a spectacular senior year.

Q. Andy Katz said on TV that you said you thought you guys deserved a 1 seed. Is that what you said and do you think it will happen?

COACH PITINO: Well, I judge it from the eye test. Now, understand something, every analyst has an agenda, every coach has an agenda. I think it because I was there at SMU in the ugliest environment in 39 years, I was there at Cincinnati in the most hostile environment. I've been there with a run through March, I know what the guys have been through.

Do I think we should be? Yes. Do I think we will be? No. That being said, if you ask me who is the best college basketball player in America, I would say Russ Smith. If you ask me who is the best power forward, I would say Montrezl Harrell So I have an extremely biased opinion, but I'm impressed with our guys and what they have done to win a regular season, the conference tournament, the way we have done it in the fashion we have done it fits the eye test. I can't talk about the strength of the league. If you want to blame anybody blame football, don't blame us.

Q. Coach, what is it that you tell your team going into March for them to get on high street because y'all have done it the past two years, the beginning or middle of February you all get hot and carry it into March and on into April?

COACH PITINO: Well, I think it's recruiting quality people, and then the older guys convinced Terry Rozier and Chris Jones, look at the transformation in Chris Jones in less than a year from buying into what Louisville is all about. It's all about winning, playing for the name on the front and we always take the philosophy if you play for the name on the front the name on the back gets rewarded. That's been our theme.

I think our guys understand it. We did not pass the ball well tonight but outside of that, we understand why you play the game and we play extremely hard for all the right reasons, and Russ comes in and immediately grabs a freshman and I remember going back two years ago in the Big East Championship, he's screaming at me from the foul line, "I've never won a championship, I've never won a championship!" Now look at him, not only does he have multiple MVP's, multiple College All-Americans, National Championship, back-to-back final fours, his legacy is pretty incredible, all coming from a guy who just scored a lot of points in high school, but didn't win anything, didn't even win a scratch ticket.

Q. Rick, you won these three games by a total of 100 points, and there was a time-out with will 11 minutes left up by 17 and you are laying into your guys pretty hard. Tim Henderson talked about how guys are afraid of getting screamed at when you are up 50 or 60 points. What is that attitude and what are you trying to convey?

COACH PITINO: I'm not personalizing my voice, I'm telling them that regardless of the score, the game must be played a certain way because if we would have passed the ball tonight like we did in a close, hard-fought game we would have lost the game. So you're preparing and trying to be fundamentally sound all the time. It's not a - like I told Russ, it was one on four and I said let's take the ball out and run our back screen action and use clock. We weren't going to lose that game but I want our guys if we're in a tight game to understand what we take and don't take.

Q. Why do you think your teams tend to peak this time of the year?

COACH PITINO: I think it's a system of recruiting the right people. It takes a while to do that, by the way. My best team did not get to a Final Four, got to an Elite Eight, because - even the team that lost to Morehead State totally bought into the name on the front. These guys buy into it totally and the team that lost in the Elite Eight didn't, that's why we got beat by a good Michigan State team. So it's our philosophy, we know we can lose, we respect everybody, we are a humble group, these guys buy into that name on the front.

That's why I'm so hard on them in the time outs, because they didn't pass the ball tonight. Luke Hancock was off, wasn't playing well. He took bad shots to try and play well rather than pass the ball, use his teammates, get the ball back, he would have had a good night so even the wise people learned a valuable lesson tonight.

Q. Coach, you have had a Hall of Fame career, you flirted in 2011 with coaching the Puerto Rican team. Do you see a future coaching the National Team, U.S. National Team or another team to further your trophy case?

COACH PITINO: I wanted to coach the Puerto Rican national team very much. Unfortunately they changed the date as well as the place. It was supposed to be played in Puerto Rico and they moved it to Brazil and they changed the date to when school started. I was looking forward to it because it was something I had not done. If the situation arises again and they would like to have me, I would love to do it.

Q. Russ, besides the national championships, the conference championships, and the individual awards, what else do you feel like you have accomplished during your four years at Louisville?

RUSS SMITH: I feel like I've accomplished meeting a bunch of new people, making a lot of connections, getting an education, and living out a college athlete's life. I have a lot of fun being in Louisville and it's probably one of the best places ever. I always invite my friends to come and just stay with me. Just the whole college experience is fun and my teammates. Besides the individual awards and the accolades, I remember I went through that whole time last year about what I wanted to do, even though I had almost done everything a college athlete on the court could have done. There was some things I was missing, being a senior on campus, my teammates, helping new freshmen grow so a bunch of maturity points that I wanted to get better in helped me a lot.

Q. Montrezl, you guys have won, starting with SMU, the last five games, averaging 30 per game. What have you guys done to accomplish this stretch?

MONTREZL HARRELL: We take it one game at a time and we buy into Coach's game plan. We try to focus on the defensive end because we know if we get a defensive start that's going to lead to our offensive break. Look at our scouting report, paying attention to every little thing to win the game.

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