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Rick Pitino Discusses Pretty Much Everything

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From his new team to how to deal with Kentucky fans to the Ebola virus.

Kevin C. Cox

Highlights from this afternoon's eventful presser (video available here)

--We have pretty much a brand new team. We built a great culture of winning the last three years, and now we're concentrating on building on that culture.

--When you have so many foreign players, you're not just working on getting them physically and mentally stronger, you're working on getting them adjusted to the culture. It takes a lot of patience, especially when you're dealing with 7-footers.

--The good news is that we have a great starting five. Those guys are really good and they're doing a great job of trying to pass our culture along to the newcomers.

--Our bench has to get better, which is why these red-white games are so important. Sometimes when you play exhibition games they don't tell you a lot, but that's not going to be the case this year.

--Chris Jones has been back over a month from his injury. Akoy Agau and Jaylen Johnson have just been back this week. Jaylen hasn't practiced a day yet. First it was because he wasn't cleared, recently it's been because he's had tendonitis in his quad.

--I think this will be one of the best backcourts I've coached, because they play so well together. We asked Chris Jones to lose a certain amount of weight and he has. He's like Mighty Mouse right now because he's so small and so strong.

--Terry's playing great basketball, Wayne has been terrific, Montrezl has added some things to his game, and Mangok has made the jump that we expected. All five guys are meeting our expectations right now.

--Montrezl has added a reliable 16-foot jumper and he's shooting free-throws better, but he's not playing the same defense he played last year, and we need to fix that.

--Mangok's goal is to be as good as Gorgui someday. He always talks about that. He's a much better basketball player today than he was.

--We're a new basketball team, so I don't know how we fit into the ACC yet.

--Four years ago we asked the players to put Louisville first, and they've done such a tremendous job of that, and the players today see that. They see Luke Hancock, who if he doesn't make it in the NBA already has two offers to work in business. They see Tim Henderson who already has a job. They see Russ Smith and Stephan Van Treese already with guaranteed contracts. So it's easy for our guys now to see how those guys were rewarded for playing for the name on the front and not the back.

--It's a little bit harder with this group to show them how successful our past guys have been because we have a big Egyptian and a big Norwegian who don't know anything about that.

--I asked some of our players to stop using a certain word in practice, and now they're all swearing in Norwegian. They're using the Norwegian version of the word that was banned.

--I don't expect either Matz Stockman or Anas Mahmoud to play this season. It's not because they're not going to be good, it's just because the transition for bigs takes so much longer than it does for guards. One of them needs to get bigger and the other needs more mental toughness. If we needed them to play they could play, but we don't need them because Mangok and Chinanu look so good.

--Chinanu is 17-years-old. He won't turn 18 until November. When he first got here he couldn't get through one conditioning drill. His mom and best friend didn't recognize him when he went home recently. He has become a physical specimen. He's 255 pounds of solid muscle. He really needs to improve his free-throw shooting because he shoots free-throws like Montrezl. We're trying to get both him and Chinanu to develop a soft touch at the line. Montrezl has really improved.

--Teaching defense is the biggest adjustment when you have six new players. It's why when we get into the season and are rolling, we're not going to focus too much on teaching from 9-13, because we need to focus on teaching our first 8.

--I didn't want to play the game against Minnesota, but Richard insisted on it, which told me that he thinks he can win the game. Of course that was before Montrezl Harrell made his decision. But he still thinks he can beat us. He's got four seniors and he won 25 games last year. We have the same handicap on the golf course but he recently beat me five times in a row. After the last time he patted me on the ass and said, "it's been a tough summer for you, hope it's not a tough fall." So he fully expects to win that game.

--If we are like we've been the last three seasons, we won't beat Minnesota, because we always wait to play our best ball sometime in January.

--Those Red-White games are crucial, because we've got to be ready to go in just a few weeks.

--I'm impressed with Quentin because he's gotten so much physically stronger. He's typical of most freshmen in that he's gifted offensively but can't guard anybody. Shaqquan's different because he got sick and came in 20 pounds lighter than we thought he was going to be. Like Francisco Garcia, he's very weak physically. He's a talented young man, but Wayne Blackshear dominates him every day in practice physically. He can pass and score, but he's got to get bigger.

--I can't recruit a kid now because he wears Nike on the AAU circuit. I never thought that shoes would be the reason I couldn't recruit a player, but it's a factor now. I think we need to deal with that. I think we need to get the shoe companies out of the lives of young athletes and get it back to where coaches and parents have more of a say than peripheral people, but I don't know how to do that. It's easier said than done.

I think our pool shrinks because we're not a Nike school. That said, we've had the best recruiting classes we've had since I've been here the last few years.

It's not the kid who actually cares, it's the outside influence. The AAU people are being told that if your kid goes to a school that doesn't wear our clothes, you may not get renewed with our stuff next year. It's a bigger problem than the guaranteed scholarships, but nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to talk about it because it's money related. Anytime money is involved, people don't want to talk. But I think it needs to be cleaned up.

I wish the NCAA would run the camps in the summertime, that way they would get to explain all the rules. They could tell us when we could come in and when we could watch; they could legislate all of that. That would be a great way to spend all that money that they have, but I don't think they want to do that.

I'm not speaking about a personal situation that just happened to us. That really was not the case, believe it or not. I'm talking about how in the last five years I've seen such a tremendous change. These shoe companies are going out in the summer and recruiting like we recruit players. It's very tough to address because our pockets are lined with their money.

Some of these programs are run very well. But what I've learned the last few years is that if there's a program with a kid and Nike's paying them a grand sum of money, Louisville's not going to go in and recruit that, because it doesn't make much sense. And it's the same thing with adidas. I just learned this. I never believed it until the last couple of years. It's a big problem in basketball. I'm sure the Nike coaches would disagree.

We've learned which kids we want to recruit. We know the programs well now. It's not just Nike, Under Armour is out there and competing very hard as well. I wish it all wasn't there, but I think it's gonna be there for a long, long time. The answer for us is to find out how loyal an athlete is to his AAU program and if the outside influences are going to push him to a Nike school. We have to do our homework and be very diligent.

--I'm very comfortable with adidas right now because we're having great success. If I didn't feel like we could have great success, I would have recommended that we go with Under Armour or Nike or whoever. It was my fault, not the shoe companies or the university, that I didn't research how important the shoe companies were in the recruiting process. As long as you do your homework, you're fine. Until a couple years ago, I didn't do my homework.

--We want to go after the kids who don't care about the shoe companies.

--I really mean this -- I could care less about Kentucky. The reason I never knock Kentucky, like most Louisville people will do, is that I have too much respect for the players I coached for those eight years. So I never say a negative word about Kentucky. On the flip side, I don't care what they have or what they do, except when we're getting ready to play them. So I never say a negative word about them.

--Just like it's taken me a long time to figure out the shoe companies, it's taken me a long time to figure out all the 400,000 people who come up to me and say, "hey coach, I'm a Kentucky fan." It's taken me a long time, but now I've got it down to a science of how to stop that. It started by chance in an Atlanta airport when a woman came up to me and told me she was a Florida fan, so I just said "go Gators." She looked at me and then just walked away. So now whenever I'm out to dinner or something and someone comes up to me and says, "hey coach, I'm a Kentucky fan" I just say "go Cats." They look at you, and then they walk right away. It's taken me a long time to master this. If I'm in South Carolina - "go Gamecocks." They leave right away and let me finish my dinner. I am learning after 13 years so much about this industry.

--(Asked if the Ebola virus has affected his recruiting Africa) No, I think it's a lot like AIDS in that we need to be more educated about this and understand it before we talk about it this much. It hasn't had any effect on us so far.

--The great thing about foreign players is that they start playing soccer as their No. 1 sport and so they have terrific footwork. Now that's not true with Matz. Maybe soccer isn't the No. 1 sport in Norway. It's probably ice hockey or something. Basketball's not big in Norway. When I asked Matz to name the three or four best basketball players from Norway, he could only name one.

--"Go Cards."