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Rick Pitino talks Damion Lee, Ralph Willard and trip to Puerto Rico

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a massive day of news for the Louisville basketball program, and here are Rick Pitino's full comments on each piece of news. Video is available here.

On Damion Lee

Well, we've had a busy couple of weeks trying to -- when you think about it, how many points we're losing with Montrezl, Terry, Chris Jones, Wayne Blackshear. I don't know what the percentage is exactly, I do know that we don't have many points returning. So Trey (Lewis) was a big part of getting point production as well as leadership as well as someone who is extremely hungry to have a great fifth year.

Now Damion Lee joins us as someone who was heavily courted by a lot of different schools. We're super excited to have him. Both guys are not only outstanding scorers who give us the three-point range that we've lacked, but both are very good defensive players, have outstanding character. Damion is an excellent free-throw shooter as well, which is another great plus. He rebounds, shoots free-throws well, shoots it, and we feel his game will even take off to a higher level once he gets in great shape and gets his strength back from our conditioning program.

So it was a great get for us, much-needed. We have bolstered up our scoring right now, and with our young players and our young basketball team, if we didn't do that we would be in a rebuilding mode. This keeps us at the level we want to stay at right now, the level where we've been the last four or five years.

We're super excited to have Damion, and he'll really fit in well character wise, and the way we work to achieve the leavel of success we want to have next year.

On Ralph Willard

You know, it's interesting. A year ago when I had to hire an assistant coach, I talked to Ralhp Willard about coming in. We talked about our roster, what our needs were. He thought about it and then called me the next day and said, "listen, you need to go in a different direction." And I mention this because that's how close of friends we have been. I said, "why do you say that?" He said, "well right now you don't need coaching and evaluating, you need to go out there and get yourself the best recruiter that you can possibly get." He happened to speak to Richard the night before and Richard mentioned Kenny Johnson. He said, "you need to go get him, and we'll speak down the road after you get the players put together."

Ralph is just about the most selfless guy I've ever known. All he cared about was our program and our friendship.

This time around I told him, "look I have a dilemma right now: if I move David Padgett into that position, I'll have a major void at the opps position, and we can't afford to change anybody because it will really hurt our program because David does so much with scheduling, with academics, with the Puerto Rico trip coming up." I said it will really, really hurt our program, so why don't you come back for a year and help us out. He looked at it and said, "well I can be of great help to you now."

On Puerto Rico

With Puerto Rico coming up, we've gotta juggle a lot of balls in the air, but we needed to take a foreign trip this year probably more than any other time, because we have basically a new basketball team. Prior to getting Damion and trey, we didn't even know where our points were going to come from. Now with the addition of those two guys, we can put together a very talented ballclub.

Outside of those two guys, I have no idea who's going to play, and that's why this foreign trip is crucial for us. We get a chance to practice 10 days, we get a chance to play against the Puerto Rican National Team, the Puerto Rican Junior Team, and we have a chance to play against the Dominican National Team as well. We'll play probably six games in six days, and we'll also morning practice over there.

So it's going to be really exciting for us, it's going to be great. The Puerto Rican National Team is also going to come here and train with us at the same time, and then we'll all fly to Puerto Rico together on the 10th (of August). So it's gonna work out great for us.

More on Ralph Willard

And getting Ralph in who knows everything about us offensively, defensively, and who is also probably the best evaluator of talent that I've come across since I've been in this business. He evaluates talent better than any coach that I've worked with. We all know the story about Russ Smith. None of us wanted to take Russ, and Ralph insisted on it. Ralph told me also two guys that we shouldn't take, we didn't, and they turned out to not really be at our level.

Evaluating is key today. Evaluating talent and evaluating attitude for the way we want to play is crucial, and we're gonna need to bring in two to three good players next year. Having Ralph to evaluate the hard work that Kenny and Mike have put in will be beneficial to our program.


All three things are great today, obviously. Getting Damion to join our basketball team, getting Ralph to join our staff and then putting together this Puerto Rico trip, which we've put a lot of time and effort into, is going to be great for our basketball team in moving forward with the type of schedule you're going to play.

Anytime you look at going on the road and playing at Duke, playing at Virginia, playing on the road in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, playing at Kentucky, along with all the other Atlantic Coast Conference teams, and then playing in the Barclays Center -- we had to do something dynamic, and we have. So we're super excited about it.