As could have been easily forecast, Rick Pitino was the major story at Big East media day in New York yesterday.
A basic Google news search of his name elicits a bevy of headlines that pretty much tell the story on their own: Pitino's offseason was riddled with scandal, Pitino has moved on and doesn't think the scandal will in any way affect his team even though it almost certainly will, Preston Knowles should have won the Nobel Peace Prize (Google news picks up blogs).
Pitino's main talking point Wednesday was that he's moved on, the team is focused on the season, and that there will be no more off-the-court distractions from here on out.
"Nick Zito, who trains some of my horses, said to me one time, 'We got a good chance of winning today. I put blinkers on the horse,'" Pitino said. "I didn't get that whole thing. How does it help the horse run better? Then he told me the blinkers help the horses concentrate on the lane they're running because horses always get distracted and want to look around during the race. In our sport, many times people, when they have great success, get distracted when they face adversity. You have to follow your path and focus in on where you're trying to get with your team."
"There will be no more distractions. I owe it to my team. There may be, for a few hours one day, a personal distraction on my part, but there won't be any team distractions. All (the players are) interested in is their future, making their lives better for their families someday, becoming the best players they can possibly be. Winning games, that's really what they're tuned into."
It's a nice thought, and when you read it with his voice in your mind you start to believe that this really isn't going to be an issue for the '09-'10 Cards. And then you see the following statement from Edgar Sosa.
"I didn't have answers for their questions, but yes, everyone wanted to know if I knew anything," Sosa said. "I didn't. None of the players knew anything more than what we'd see on TV or read in the papers. It got to be a pain telling people I had no idea about what's going on with Coach P. My whole summer was like that. People still want to know and I tell them the same thing I'm telling you. I don't know what's going on."
I have absolutely no doubt that the focus of both the kids and the coaches will be on doing everything they need to do win basketball games from here on out, but there isn't anyone who follows or is associated with the program who truly believes that Pitino's personal problems are no longer an issue that will have any affect on this year's squad. The players are going to hear about it from the media, they're going to hear about it from every opposing student section, and they're going to hear about it from everywhere if they start losing games.
The coaches and players can say all the right things between now and the start of the season, but wins and losses will, as always, speak louder than anything.
More from Pitino.
On possibly nearing the end of his coaching career:
"This has nothing to do with what happened, but I realize my life's mortality, my basketball mortality. I'm 57 and I know how lucky I have been to coach this game for this period of time, but I also know the window is starting to close. I'll be 58 soon. Very few of us can do what (Jim) Boeheim (of Syracuse) and (Jim) Calhoun (of Connecticut) have done.
"I guess in the next four, five years, I want to coach as hard as I can and have as much fun as I possibly can. That's the way I'm going out."
On the recent arrests of Jerry Smith and Terrence Jennings:
"If you knew exactly what happened, I had 50 worse things happen at Providence, 100 things worse happen at Kentucky. I know what happened was an unfortunate situation. The young men learned from it. Thankfully no one got hurt. The young men knew where they made their mistake.
"They were disciplined, like I discipline all my players. I can assure some people, the first question is: are they going to be suspended? These players -- compared to what I put them through -- much rather would be suspended. Much rather [than] the hell that they pay."
On the August press conference:
"Some of you misread my press conference that day. I wasn't chastising (the media) at all. In the slightest way. I just really had enough, my family had enough, and I needed to step up for my family and for myself and get something off my chest."
On the new Downtown Arena:
"It will be the finest basketball arena ever built, college or pro, with the finest amenities. It's $350 million, 70 luxury boxes, right on the river."
On Louisville's facilities:
"I know when (recruits) visit us, they say, ‘Wow, the dormitories, the Yum! Center, the new arena. It’s unbelievable. They don’t talk about Wes Unseld and Denny Crum and Phil Bond and all the all-Americans we’ve had. They look at the facilities, they look at those things and they’re blown away by it."
On parity in the Big East this season:
"Now I think the top teams like us, Syracuse, Pittsburgh come to the middle. And the bottom teams like St. John's, Cincinnati and South Florida are going to come to the middle, and we're all going to meet somewhere in the middle and compete."