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Transcript: Rick Pitino talks injuries, scheduling, and the Kentucky rivalry

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Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed the show today, Rick Pitino came on at the beginning of the 5 o'clock hour and talked about a number of things for around a half hour in what turned out to be an extremely insightful conversation.

Here's the transcript, or you can listen for yourself right here:

On Billy Minardi

Well obviously after 9/11 -- and for history buffs 9/11 is the modern day Pearl Harbor for a lot of New Yorkers and other people, and some people still haven't recovered from it today. Families were broken up and so many loved ones were lost.

When I lost my son at a very young age, we built the chapel at Providence College in his name. Obviously you never forget a loved one, but other people do, and so you try to do something to leave a positive legacy in their name. There's a number of things we have done -- we have a scholarship set up for coaches that we have lost in our time from college days, with my son it was a chapel, and with Billy Minardi we have a beautiful statue with one of his best friends, Timmy Coughlin, at the highest point at Hulman Memorial Country Club in Tampa, Fla., where Billy was very close with the founder of Outback Steakhouse, Chris Sullivan. And it's at the highest ground and it's an interesting statue -- he's got his arms raised and he's with Timmy, two people we knew well who died in 9/11 -- and when they come off the 10th green, everybody from the caddies, guests -- and 98% of the people don't know who they are -- but it's a custom for everybody to slap Timmy on the chest and high-five Billy. And then if you get a birdie, you leave the ball there at the bottom of the statue. It's really a cool thing.

And then we decided to do something also with the dormitory. We went out with a bunch of New York friends and people here in town who knew Billy, and we raised the money to build a dormitory in Billy's name so that his name would live forever.

And another way is having the Billy Minardi Classic. We've tried to do it over the years with guys who knew Billy really well like Billy Donovan or Mark Pope who coaches Utah Valley and was part of the '96 championship team and knew Billy really well, or like Kevin Keatts and Kareem Richardson who know of him. So we try to get people who know about the legacy, and it's a very special tournament.

Obviously from a basketball standpoint, it's a very important tournament because we have to continue to grow. Without Mangok Mathiang, that puts a huge hole in our defensive lineup. It's like losing your middle linebacker in football. He's a very important key to our defense. We can replace his points, we can replace his low post moves, but we can't replace what he gives us on the defensive side, because he's the brains of the defense.

On changing the frontcourt rotation with Mangok out

Well we don't really have enough time to figure that one out right now, because we've got a busy week. We've got two games coming up and then we got Kentucky with two days practice. We don't have a lot of time to figure it out right now, so we've gotta go with what we have, and what we have right now is we're gonna have to use Matz Stockman ... Because Nanu has pretty much been getting into foul trouble in every game he's played.

Down the road we could possibly play Ray Spalding at the 5 spot. He is a little small, as far as weight-wise, to play that spot, so he'll have to use his quickness. And then we'll get Anas back. Anas would solve a lot of problems, but he hasn't come back yet. I thought he'd come back yesterday, to be perfectly honest with both of you, but he has not come back yet. So that's disappointing.

We're gonna work on it, and toy with certain things, but none of them are going to replace Mangok on the defensive end. His knowledge of what to do, what not to do, his physicality -- he's able to mix it up with very physical basketball players.

You know when I went to Puerto Rico, all the guys on the team said Damion Lee was the most talented, but all the players said Mangok Mathiang was the most important. I said, "why do you say that?" They said they had tried to talk a lot of nonesense to those guys and Mangok wasn't having any of it. He didn't back down to any of 'em. They said he was able to play with us from a physical nature, and the rest of your players couldn't do it.

Can Chinanu be that same type of vocal leader? Does he have that ability?

He has it, he's just not as well-respected as Mangok -- and that's not a negative. Mangok is just the hardest worker, and everybody always respects the hardest worker. On the championship team, everybody respected Peyton Siva because he was the hardest worker. Nanu certainly talks and communicates, but he's on the bench quite a bit because of foul trouble.

You know, we're gonna be fine. We'll go into Kentucky and we'll give them our best shot. Then we'll play Wake Forest and we'll give them our best shot. We've gotta take care of these first two games first, and figure some things out. It's not the worst thing in the world when you have two games, it helps you -- right now, your guess is as good as mine when it comes to can Matz Stockman play. I was looking forward to next year with him, but we're gonna have to push the envelope with him and get a chance to find out.

On this week's schedule

We'll practice two days before Kentucky. Obviously they're a different style of play and so we're going to get ready for them. And then we'll take two days off after Kentucky and give the guys a little bit of a break. And then we'll come back and get ready for Wake Forest.

On the Puerto Rico trip paying off now

Yeah it gave us a tremendous head start. As a basketball coach it told me what we have, what we need to work on, what we need to simplify. It really was such a valuable experience because it told me the answers to the exam, and I knew exactly what to work on when we get back. That's paid huge dividends for us.

Nobody was very impressed with Samford, but last night they beat Nebraska at Nebraska. And Grand Canyon is playing very good basketball. Sometimes when you beat a team by 40 points, I'm like you guys and you say, "well that team's not very good, we just had much more talent than them." But every night is a different learning experience.

I always believe in finding a silver lining. Right now we have a huge cloud hanging over us with Mangok out and so I'm saying let's find the silver lining, where it lies. Now we don't have a whole lot of time to find out about it, but we're going to find out about it. Anas is out, but now we've got Deng Adel back. Maybe we go small and play Deng a little bit at power forward.

Right now we don't have a lot of answers because this happened all of the sudden. If you go back and watch the film, it had to have happened one or two plays prior to that. It couldn't have happened on the play where he limped off, because there was nothing there.

If you'd have known this team was going to be this far along, would you have wanted to play a tougher non-conference schedule?

You know, Mike, the schedule has only helped us, it hasn't hurt us. The only thing you feel bad about is that the fans aren't excited about it, so they haven't really been showing up at the games because the competition hasn't been great. But this has allowed me to play more people, it's allowed me to experiment with certain things because we have a lead. So, no I think the schedule's fine.

Look, what are we 14, 15 in the RPI? At the end of the year when it all shakes out, we're probably going to have a top 25 schedule, so it all depends on whether you can beat those teams or not. Look, you're gonna play all these ACC teams. You're gonna play Duke twice, Virginia twice, Pittsburgh, at Notre Dame, at NC State. You're gonna have so many chances to show your mettle. What we needed to do was find out what we had, gain our experience, and you know we could be playing next year's schedule and already have four losses. Next year we're in Atlantis, playing Indiana at Conseco, we're playing Kentucky at home, we're playing the Big Ten Challenge. And if we had that type of schedule this year we could be 6-4 and everybody would be saying, "oh they're not that good."

So now you're 15th in the nation, you're playing well, everybody on this young team has confidence. So sometimes what you wish for is not what's best for the team. Now if we were playing in the MAC conference or where we're not going to play the mettle -- but when you look at the schedule, you guys should be very thankful for the schedule we've played. Because with a young basketball team that doesn't know each other very well right now, instead of being 9-1, we could be 6-4 or 7-3 and people would question everything rather than being really excited.

You're actually No. 12 in the RPI and No. 2 in the Sagarin, so with the computer rankings, the schedule has not weighed against you

No, and look, what we need more than anything else, guys, is confidence. Now we got confidence from that loss at Michigan State, they're the No. 1 team in the country. You guys weren't there, but that's as -- when you go into Michigan State or Kentucky or Kansas, you're going into the toughest environments in all of college basketball. And we were very disappointed we didn't win that game. We're going to go into similar environments where we've got our work cut out for us, and we need some confidence right now with a young basketball team.

And also, Damion Lee and Trey Lewis need some confidence. They need to get their feet wet the right way. They could take those losses and miss an important shot, and they wouldn't be as confident as they are right now. So believe me, that schedule was necessary for this year. Next year's schedule will be necessary for a team that's going to be much more experienced.

On the difference in approaches between Louisville playing two games during the week and Kentucky taking the week off before Saturday's game

John, it's not going to make a difference either way. I can tell you, with rivalry games, they could have 10 days off and go beat our brains in or we could go every single day and then go beat them. In a rivalry game you throw everything out. It just doesn't matter. People try to analyze the game -- "well this guy's not playing" -- everybody picks up their game in a rivalry game. You see the best of everybody, and sometimes you see the worst of people that can't play in a rivalry game.

So we've gone in there and beat them when they were the No. 1 team in the country, and they've gone into our place and beat us. Look, you can't analyze it as some of their players haven't played well in some of their other games, because it's not Louisville-Kentucky, it's not Duke-North Carolina. Everybody brings their best for that night.

You're going into an environment where there there are 23,930, and there's 70 Louisville fans. This is not like the Yum Center where five to six thousand Kentucky fans get into that place. This is -- you know, there's 70 people and you don't even notice the red in that building. So you're going into a Michigan State/Kansas type environment, it's a great environment, we're looking forward to it, and it should be a great game.

On Louisville/Kentucky vs. Duke/North Carolina

It's different because I have felt like we haven't gotten the greatest whistle in the world when we've gone in there. So that's the difference. And it's the same thing when they come to our place. It's referees that do both conferences. But when you're in the same conference, the whistle is not as much of a factor because you're gonna see these refs every single night. So I'm sure that when Kentucky comes into Louisville maybe they feel like they're not getting the greatest whistle, and when we go into there, you know, we look at certain things. The worst whistle I thought we ever got was Luke Hancock in the Sweet 16. We were playing great basketball and he was sent to the bench by the whistle, and then you look at the calls and you don't agree with them.

All coaches, I'm probably the last -- I don't even know why I brought it up -- all coaches think that way about the road with the whistle. The difference is when you're in conference, the whistle doesn't really play that much of a factor. When you're out of conference, it is a little bit because you're gonna get guys that do some of our games, and so on. But you can't worry about that. I try not to ever worry about the officiating. Everybody always asks me about the foul on Wayne Blackshear, or the foul on -- you've just gotta get the next guy to step up in that game.

So, do I think it's the best rivalry? I think Duke-Carolina is a great rivalry, we've got a great rivalry with them. I've coached at both places. I never got into the rivalry when I was at Kentucky, and I've never gotten into the rivalry when I've been at Louisville, because I don't like getting my players nervous. And when they go out to the mall and hear "oh you've gotta beat 'em, you've gotta beat 'em"; I don't like creating that.

Does it mean a lot to me inside? No question about it. But I don't want my team to feel that way, because young guys get uptight, and I don't want them getting uptight.

I hope I answered that well.

How have you gotten this team to remain focused and "all in?"

Well you've just got to show them that every game is important. I take great pride in what I told these guys, I said "look, I'm not going to hide the fact that you guys have got a big game coming up Saturday. So here's what we're gonna do, we're going to play these two games as if you're playing against Kentucky. With that type of intensity." I said, "if you want to play against Kentucky, you've gotta do it in these next two games." You can't show up on Saturday at noon and expect to play if you put in two bad performances on Tuesday and Wednesday. So I said "play the type of defense necessary to beat Kentucky, rebound like you're playing against Kentucky, create deflections and your steals like you're playing against Kentucky, and then you'll be ready."

Does it help you in a game like this to have two guys in Damion Lee and Trey Lewis who are experienced but don't know enough about the rivalry to let it have a huge effect on them?

Well Mike, they already hear about it from the students and when they go out to eat that's all they hear about. Then come Tuesday and Wednesday, if we're winning our games they're gonna start chanting "beat Kentucky." Not too many students have been showing up, so maybe they won't do that.

You know, you can't run away from it, Mike. It is what it is: it's Louisville-Kentucky. It's a big game, it's a great game, I love it. I don't know how many more times I'll be in Rupp Arena in my lifetime, so I enjoy it. I enjoy going into Michigan State, Rupp -- I can't wait to go into Duke and see these environments, because it's the ultimate in competing. When you go into one of these great environments and come away with a great feeling, that's the ultimate. You come in with a gladiator mentality, and you leave with a gladiator mentality.

On where this team can improve

Well you've gotta see how you handle adversity. Look, I respect everybody's opinion, but most of the opinions I hear from media people, I wouldn't say can validate anything, because they don't see practice. It would be like me, and I've done TV work where I'm commenting on what I see from a team, and really it's not valid -- although I'm a basketball coach and I have some insight into what's going on -- until I watch practice and study that, nobody can make any legitimate comment.

You know you always hear the football guy from the Eagles, Jaworski, say "while I was breaking down the film..." He must never eat dinner because he's breaking down so much film, but at least he's watching film. But you really have to watch practice.

Right now, my biggest question to this basketball team is "what are you gonna do when you're 12 with 8 minutes to go and you're not shooting well? Can you turn that game around like so many of our teams have been able to do?" You know, you were on top of Michigan State for most of the game, and you responded fairly well. How are you gonna respond when you're down in a game, and you aren't playing well, and you're making mistakes, and the crowd's going crazy. They responded pretty well at Michigan State, but we're going to be in maybe 9 or 10 of those games on the road coming up. How are you gonna respond to that? Someone goes on a 12 to 4 run and we call a timeout; are you gonna respond the right way?

Those are the questions I have. I don't have any questions about areas where we can improve. Anybody can see that: where we have to get better. We've got to get better in certain areas on defense, we've got to get better in getting back on transition defense and communicating verbally.

But that being said, I don't have a lot of darkness of doubt with this basketball team. Now I'll be very upfront with you, now that it's all over: I had a lot of doubt every single day with that basketball team last year. Every single day I had doubt of that basketball team. And they did a tremendous job of being a layup or a free-throw away from a Final Four, but I had doubt every day. I don't have any doubt with this team. Even though we're injured right now, I still don't have any doubt.

Now we've gotta get some breaks, and we've gotta get Anas back on the basketball court -- like I said, this is taking a lot longer than I anticipated.

On Deng Adel's status

He's a little rusty, which he should be, but he played very well the last two days of practice. Today I let him go a little longer, so he'll see some time. With Deng Adel, now if Damion Lee gets into foul trouble, we've got somebody who we can put in. We don't have to play Donovan Mitchell at 6'2, we've got a guy we can play at 6'7. But Deng Adel is not the answer to our problems right now, it's more Anas.

Last night we went to see V.J. King play. All our players were there. We've got a special recruit coming in here. He's 6'7 with like a 7'3 wingpsan, he's one of the smoothest players I've recruited in terms of ballhandling and the way he plays the game. Very, very smart. I was really excited about it -- now the opponent was .... they won by 50 points, and North Bullitt I believe was 8-0, and beat Fairdale by 30. This team beat them by 50. But they were able to overwhelm their competition with size.

On what he looks for in recruits now

Everybody asks me how long I'm going to coach. I'll give you the answer that I've never given to anybody else in my lifetime: when I stop learning is when I'll stop coaching. My desire to stop learning, I should say. And my desire to learn is still there with a deep passion.

The two things I've learned in the last three or four years is recruit shooters and teach them to play defense, make sure they have athletic ability. And the second thing I've learned is really recruit great character, because it motivates a coaching staff. It keeps you happy and it keeps you motivated. You just can't wait to get up in the morning and head to individual instruction because you're working with guys that just want to be taught.

I was talking last night with Richard about how I couldn't believe that Samford beat Nebraska, and he said that Nebraska really struggles shooting the basketball. I was telling Ralph this morning, one of the things I've learned these last few years is to get guys with some athletic ability who can shoot, you'll teach them all the matchup defenses, you'll teach them how to press, but make sure they can shoot the basketball.

Thanks for coming on and for all that you do, coach

Well I enjoy talking basketball. I don't like gossip and I don't like some of the things that go with the game. I'm a little bit different from most people, in that I've got nothing but great respect for the University of Kentucky. They've got my name hanging from the rafters there. If I ever said a negative word about Kentucky, even though you guys may not like them, I would be insulting every player I coached for those eight years. I love those players dearly.

I'm at Louisville now. This is the school I love, this is the school I represent, but I love just talking basketball and getting to the important things. I don't like knocking people, knocking programs, saying negative things about anyone. I've got great respect for everybody we play.

But I think the most important thing for us as we head into this Kentucky game is to play the type of defense we're going to play against Kentucky these next two nights. If you see close games and we're struggling and everything else, then you'll know our minds are elsewhere. So far, with this basketball team, that has not been the case.