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Rick Pitino, Russ Smith And Luke Hancock Preview Manhattan

Here's your transcript of Wednesday evening's press conference via ASAP Sports.

Q.  Russ, coming into this tournament you talked about how your game has kind of matured this season, and just overall taking better shots and how you've matured as a player?

RUSS SMITH:  As a player, looking at film, Coach P telling me the things I need to do before the season for us to be successful, my teammates always being there to support me, especially a guy like Luke who's a veteran, Montrezl who's one of the smartest basketball players on our team, just helping me being able to help me find shots and letting me know where I'm most consistent at as far as Coach P letting me know behind the three‑point line, fixing my mechanics, getting in the gym, getting some reps in, going through film with some of the freshmen and new guys to kind of help our chemistry and cohesiveness. But overall as far as like the whole team as a whole, we've just really been working hard as individuals this year like no other, guys have been pushing each other, so this year has been really competitive. 

Q.  Eyebrows were raised around the country when you guys got a 4 seed.  What was that like internally for you guys?  How did you view that, and was it just?

LUKE HANCOCK:  I mean, we really didn't raise an eyebrow at it.  That's how we were selected, that's where we went, and we just tried to focus in on our first match‑up.  Manhattan is a great basketball team, and that's all we're really worrying about.  Haven't even looked who's in our bracket or anything like that, just worried about the first game because everybody knows if you don't, you're going to lose, you're going to go home. 

RUSS SMITH:  I kind of figured we would get a seeding like that, maybe a low 3 or 4, but definitely something along those lines.  The Big Ten, the ACC has really been competitive this year, so I kind of figured a few of those teams may have gotten a seed like that, then Wichita and Florida were amongst the two elite groups.  So the 4 seed didn't really surprise me too much.  But now it's tournament time, all seedings go out the window.  It's pretty cool for the first day or whatever to find out where you're at, but as far as the tournament goes you have to win six games no matter what.

Q.  Why do you think everybody around the country was a little surprised that you were a 4 because you're defending national champs and you return a bunch of guys?

RUSS SMITH:  Yeah, before the season we looked at a bunch of the teams that won a national championship and where they landed after, so we're very lucky and very thankful to be in the tournament just for one.  For the next part, as far as everybody being so surprised, not beating around the bush, but we've dominated our last few weeks of basketball since the loss to Memphis.  We've been winning by a good margin.  When you initially look at the University of Louisville, you see they've been winning by 20 or 30 or 50, they should be a 1 or 2 seed.  But as an overall whole we understood what our body of work was like, we knew the games we won in December, we knew our schedule in November, we knew who we lost to, so it really wasn't no big surprise for us when we broke our schedule down. 

Q.  Russ, a question for you:  I know you know the Manhattan coach pretty well.  Can you describe what his personality is like compared to Coach Pitino's and do they have any similarities do you think?

RUSS SMITH:  Yeah, Coach Mas is really cool.  They're both high energy, intense and aggressive, and they're both competitors.  Mas was with Coach P if I remember correctly at Kentucky.  He was with him when he was at New York and at Louisville.  So Masiello is definitely like Coach P in many ways, but he also has his own style.  He likes to put his own twist on things as far as plays may go, and he's very smart. 

And Coach P and a bunch of the guys who were here when Mas was here have an immense amount of respect for him as a person and as a coach. Just going up against him in the first round is difficult, but I think our guys are ready for the opportunity ahead. 

Q.  Russ, Steve actually was talking about since the styles are so similar and he borrows so much from Coach Pitino that you guys are the bigger, better version of Manhattan.  I was wondering what you thought of that.

RUSS SMITH:  You know, Coach Mas is a great coach, and he says that in all respect, but honestly, I think it's just different.  Obviously at this level at University of Louisville and a bunch of schools like that, it's an athletic barrier that I think separates high major from mid major.  But honestly, their guys are extremely talented.  I know each one of the guys on the team.  Pankey was at Maryland, and I know Beamon was one of the guys just like me who was under recruited, and he's from AAU.  I played AAU ball with Rhamel Brown.  He was under‑recruited, as well.  Mikey Alvarado played in my league at All Hallows.  He was under‑recruited as well.  So a bunch of those guys on that team, even a guy like RaShawn Stores who's my cousin, under recruited as well. 

They're extremely talented, so to say that we're maybe bigger, a more‑athletic version of that, that may be the correct statement, but I don't think we're too far off.  Maybe as a whole as far as 13 players down the roster, but in a starting lineup Manhattan is extremely talented.  For me personally, I know each guy personally, I don't know if I would go that far. 

Q.  Just in general can you describe what it's like to play for Coach Pitino?  I know he puts a lot of emphasis on having his assistants do a lot, but does he have a lot of day‑to‑day contact with you or do his assistants do most of the stuff?

RUSS SMITH:  Coach P is very much involved in practice like no other.  Even today we're going over something and something was forgotten to go over, and Coach P was on top of it like right away.  I wouldn't just say that.  It may look like it because the assistants do such a great job that they pretty much cover everything that needs to be covered, but Coach is always there, and he always makes corrections if things needs to be corrected, and as far as off the court goes, Coach texts us, he texts guys in groups.  He's a guy, he's a person, so it's really cool to have a coach like that that worries about his players and that worries about how the team will rally.  So for him to ask questions, keep in contact with the captains, I think that shows a lot of great aspects of the coach. 

LUKE HANCOCK:  I've never seen a coach that's as involved as Coach is on day‑to‑day stuff, just for him to take as much time as he does to be at every individual every day and then go through a long practice.  He's at every film.  Sometimes at night he might not make the late ones at the dorm, the film sessions, but for him to be in an hour individual with three different groups and then go through two hours of practices and an hour of film every day is pretty impressive for a head coach and a Hall of Fame coach, somebody who's been around as long as him. 

RICK PITINO:  Well, I think March Madness is about as good a time a year as there is in sports, and we're very excited to be part of it, once again.  No finer place than 80‑degree weather in Orlando, Florida, so it's awesome. 

Q.  Coach, obviously for you guys, I think we all kind of gathered on Saturday night that you were expecting a better seed.  What was the reaction like, and how has that process gone for you since?
RICK PITINO:  You know, I think from just everybody asking me, pretty much everybody else is more shocked than I was.  I went through it in 2005 when we thought we'd be a 1 seed and we got a 4 seed because of Conference USA and the power conferences. 

Sometimes when people say you fit the eye test, it depends on who's looking at it.  If you have a bunch of football ADs looking at it, how would they know what the eye test is.  I always ask my SID Kenny Klein how does our football team look and he would take me to practice and he said, what do you think coach, and I'd say, I have no idea what I'm looking at.  So it all depends on who's looking at the eye test in terms of that. 

It doesn't bother me, it really doesn't, because I'll tell you what does bother me is playing Manhattan.  I think that sometimes committees make poor decisions in who they put you against because Manhattan, I happen to work with the young man for six years, coached him at Kentucky.  He was my ball boy at the Knicks.  And I don't think that's right for either one of us. 

I think the pairings sometimes lack common sense, and certainly Manhattan‑‑ I don't think they would put somewhere down the road Duke‑North Carolina early on, either, so I don't know why they would put‑‑ if any of us would be lucky enough to advance, the match‑ups don't make sense to me.  I'm okay with the seedings, I'm not okay with the match‑ups.  But the selection committee is very fair, very honorable, very honest people, so I can't protest too much because they're doing the best job that they can do.  Maybe they're a bunch of soccer ADs, I don't know. 

Q.  You mentioned playing Steve early on.  Can you just kind of explain why it would be bad?  I'm not sure if you're afraid of playing him‑‑

RICK PITINO:  I am afraid of playing him.  He knows every single thing I do since I've been 28 (smiling). 

Q.  What I wanted to ask was more about in general.  I think there are five of your former assistant coaches who are at the tournament this year, and that's pretty amazing, and I want to know your secret.

RICK PITINO:  You know, Reggie Theus had a tough call, or it would have been one more.  It's amazing the job he did at Northridge. 

I'm proud of my guys.  We build bridges together.  We'll cross it together.  I'm real proud of Steve as well as Billy the Kid and everybody else that's in it, Nick and Herb, and you name it, Marvin Menzies.  It's been awesome.  I root for them all the time.  I didn't even have to break down film, because I watched every one of Steve's games rooting like a passionate fan for him to get to the tournament.  That's what's so disappointing in the fact that we've got to play each other with both parties.  We root for each other so hard, it's just painful for the NCAA committee‑‑ well, they maybe didn't even know it, obviously. 

Q.  What have you done specifically to get these guys to be so successful as head coaches?

RICK PITINO:  I think they make me more successful than I make them to be successful to be honest with you.  They work so hard for me, with me.  They've been‑‑ we're like any other staff.  We're tireless workers to try to get the most out of it.  We understand in a very humble way why you win.  You know it's the players.  Get great players, you're a great coach.  Get good players, you're a good coach.  Get mediocre players, you're a mediocre coach.

Q.  Along that subject line, Billy has won SEC Coach of the Year three of the last four years, and that's even after winning the national championship.  How have you enjoyed watching him grow and develop during the course of his career and what do you think about the team he has this year?

RICK PITINO:  Well, Billy the Kid to me is one of the special people in my life.  I don't think anybody‑‑ I've said this, that Peyton Siva and Billy Donovan were the two most special people I've ever coached because I could never find a character flaw in them, and now I remember Christine, his wife's 40th birthday invitation, and it read Billy the Kid no longer, come join us at his birthday party.  He's still a kid because he still has the passion of someone just playing the game. 

There's no finer person I've ever met in my life like Billy Donovan.  There's no finer coach I've met in my life than Billy Donovan.  There's no better assistant or player than Billy Donovan.  He's just the most special human being I've ever encountered in my lifetime.  He never changed.  Success hasn't changed him, adversity doesn't change him.  I'm just proud to have coached him, to have worked with him and to witness everything he's accomplishing in life.  As a husband, as a parent, he's just in a class by himself.  There's nobody like Billy the Kid in this world that I've encountered in my lifetime. 

Q.  Steve has made no secret obviously how much he's looked up to you over the years, and I know you still keep in contact with him and how he's modeled his system after you.  He was talking about basically, he described you guys a bigger, better version that you run so many similar things.  Is that a fair comparison?

RICK PITINO:  It is.  We press like him, we trap like him, his offensive sets are just like ours, and they should be.  He played under me, he was an assistant coach.  That's why I don't like the game.  I don't think it's fair.  I don't like it.  I don't know why they would do it.  I just don't like the game at all for either one of us.  We may be the more‑‑ obviously we won the national championship and obviously we're more heralded, but this is anybody's game.  This is not a 1‑16.  It's not that type of‑‑ it's anybody's game.  He's got a veteran ballclub that I have great respect for.  We could lose the game if we don't play well.  But I just don't like playing‑‑ I don't like anything about the game. 

Q.  Being from Colorado, I was curious, what do Colorado State fans have to look forward to?

RICK PITINO:  I've got no comment on that, I really don't.  This is about the NCAA and I love Shane, but I've got no comment on it. 

Q.  Can you describe a little bit about how much Russ Smith has matured over the last year and how your relationship with him has changed?

RICK PITINO:  Our relationship is the same.  He's matured as a basketball player.  He hasn't matured as a person.  He's still the same lovable character he was when he first came in.  He has made it so enjoyable for me for four years in coaching him.  He's brought such laughter into my life.  He's brought so many great memories into my life, and I don't mean that in a negative way that he hasn't matured.  I'm glad he hasn't because his innocence is something to behold, that he's just such an innocent young man even though he's from the streets of Brooklyn, and to still have that innocence is an amazing thing to me.  He's just been so enjoyable to coach.  I could leave tomorrow and say, boy, I just had so many great experiences coaching one person.  His laughter in tense situations is just great.  You don't know what‑‑ I don't know how Steve can scout him.  I don't know how any opponent can scout him because he pays no attention to what I want him to do. 

Q.  Can you put a value on kids that stay for three or four years as opposed to a kid that stays for one?

RICK PITINO:  Well, I don't blame kids that leave after one.  Most of them are from backgrounds that need for them to go pro.  But like I'll give you a prime example:  Gorgui Dieng, who stayed with me three years, and I kept telling him all along, Gorgui, enjoy it while you're here.  I know you're from Senegal, from Africa, but it's never going to be the same for you.  I spent eight years in the pros, it's never going to be as good, so enjoy every moment.  Here's a young man who never had any money in life so he didn't understand that comment.  He texts me all the time and says, boy, Coach, you're right.  It's just not the same.  And I tell Russ that and I tell everybody that.

This time of year and the experience that you have, regardless of whether you're LeBron James or Kobe Bryant who have never experienced it, it's never quite the same.  It never means as much to you because it's one game, you're out and it ends.  It's a cruel ending for all of us who don't move on so it's really, really special.  But for a kid that needs to be a one‑and‑done, I've read the comments from the Pac‑10 commissioner.  I couldn't be in agreement any more with him.  Unfortunately I know the Players Association and who runs the Players Association very well, so he's got a hell of an uphill battle there. 

Q.  (No microphone).

RICK PITINO:  You know, you develop them as players, you develop them as people, and the big risk for all of them, that if you get drafted by a good team toward the end, you may be in the NBDL, you may not play very much, you may get traded, and it's not like you're getting drafted by the 76ers, the young man from Syracuse, where you don't play a lot.  There's a lot of danger to it.  In financial terms it could be very difficult on one.  It could be a loss of $2‑ or $3‑million in the grand scale of things if you don't get drafted very high. 

Q.  Is facing Steve better, worse, the same as facing Billy like you did a few years ago, because‑‑

RICK PITINO:  Steve runs everything we run.  He presses like we press.  His offenses are the same, his out‑of‑bounds plays are the same.  The only thing he does differently is he wears ridiculous suits.  Outside of that, we're one and the same.  He comes out with‑‑ he must go to Madison Avenue and just come out with the newest things all the time.  I don't know where he gets the tuxedo look with the roundabout lapels and everything.  He's hanging around Little Italy too much.

Q.  Do you have to change what you do?
RICK PITINO:  We've changed almost every attack we have for this game.  We've changed all our plays and calls and defenses because we know he knows us so well.  So if I was him, I would just be thinking a lot and not sleep because of all of the changes we are making. 

Q.  How would you explain some of the adversity that your team has faced this season being defending national champions, losing guys here and there, the Chane situation?

RICK PITINO:  You know, it hurt us during that time period, but in the end, what you try and do any time there are major injuries or major changes, you try to evolve into something better somehow, and so how we have evolved is so Montrezl Harrell, he improved more in a short span of time than probably any player I've coached with the exception of Gorgui Dieng because he's now playing 32 minutes, 33 minutes instead of 21, 22 minutes, he has had to take on a bigger role for us.  So you try to get some positives out of that, and that's one of the positives of losing a Chane Behanan. 

Q.  How do you guys prepare Chris Jones and Terry Rozier when you have all the other guys on your team who have this tournament experience?

RICK PITINO:  Well, I will say this:  I think we're playing great basketball now, and I think there's two major reasons, and it's not because Montrezl Harrell has taken on that more significant role or Russ Smith being one of the premier players in the country or what Luke Hancock has done.  I believe the reason we're playing very sound, good basketball right now coming into this tournament is because of Van Treese and Chris Jones.  If I had to pick an MVP of the AAC tournament, I would have, for us, most valuable would have been not Russ who scored 42 points.  He's our LeBron.  It would have been Stephan Van Treese because it doesn't show up on the stat sheet how well he played in that tournament.  He played awesome.

And the second one I would pick would be Chris Jones.  Those two guys have made us such a better basketball team than we were at the midway point of the season.  They have evolved into great basketball players.  And guys like you wanted them out of the starting lineup.  (Laughter). 

Q.  Talk about how Russ Smith has matured on the court as a basketball player.

RICK PITINO:  Remember, I mean that in such a great way‑‑

Q.  But in terms of the basketball, his basketball, how it's changed.

RICK PITINO:  You know, Russ, when we were trying to decide whether he should come back, and I always tell the guys the same thing.  I just had a long discussion with Montrezl Harrell about this a week ago.  He said, Coach, I want to do what you want me to do.  I trust your opinion.  I said, no, Montrezl, really, it's not about trusting me, it's about trusting the NBA.  They make decisions, not you and not me.  If they think you're a top‑12 pick, then you'll know where you stand.  It's not my opinion.  I think you're the best in the country.  I think Russ Smith is the best in the country.  I think he should be national Player of the Year.  But I love Russ Smith, just like the coach of Creighton loves his son. 
It's different. 

Russ, when he made a decision, I said, Russ, I'm not going to tell you to come back or not to come back.  Here are the 20 guys on the committee of the NBA.  Here's where they think you're going to get drafted last year, mid‑second round to late‑second round, and if you want that then you're like Peyton and you can make a team, or you can come back and graduate, get your education, come back as a first team college All‑American.  And then here are the areas you have to come back and improve on.  One is your shot selection, two you need to have a better assist‑turnover ratio and three your field goal percentage.  Well, he accomplished all three.  He's taken much better shots, has a positive assist‑turnover ratio, and he's first team college All‑American as well as his shot selection.  He has had an unbelievable career.  Three conference tournament championships, two back‑to‑back regular season championships, two back‑to‑back Final Fours, and now another NCAA appearance.  How much better can it get for a college basketball player who didn't have a Big East scholarship:  Not Rutgers, not St.John's, not Seton Hall, Villanova, not any of them, and then when I asked him who was recruiting him, he lied to me about the teams that were recruiting him so we would recruit him, and we bought into his lie and gave him a scholarship, and thank God for me.  I'd probably be an unemployed coach if it weren't for that.