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Transcript: Rick Pitino talks Chinanu Onuaku, 2016-17 roster, NCAA investigation and moving on

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Here's the full transcript from Wednesday's lengthy interview with Rick Pitino on "Ramsey & Rutherford." The questions are paraphrased a bit in some cases.

JR: Where did you get that beautiful jacket you were wearing on Derby Day?

RP: Well, I actually -- my son got engaged in Lake Como, and the next day we went to Rome. I was walking the side streets with my wife and I saw it on a mannequin and just thought it would be a great Derby jacket.

MR: What's the state of the team right now? What are the guys up to?

RP: Well they all went home. Obviously Deng and Mangok both went to Australia. Matz brought his girlfriend to Norway. So he's probably gonna come back in bad shape, he hasn't been getting anything done. The other two guys will be playing basketball.

Anas went to Egypt, and he'll be back soon. Quentin is playing; he's getting after it. Ray had some minor surgery from that problem he had at the end of the season. He'll be back in a week to play. Donovan's working very, very hard. Deng and Donovan have put in a lot, a lot of time in the spring, and it's going to show. Both of those guys I expect to have tremendous sophomore seasons, and I'm very excited about them. Nanu is trying out at the combine. They'll all be back in the next week or so.

JR: Do you meet with them individually to tell them the things they need to work on in the offseason? How does that work?

RP: Very much so. Donovan actually sends me pictures of himself on the scale. He's about 204 now. I never realized how heavy he was last year. You're talking about a 6'1 and a half/6'2 guard at 215. I mean, a heavy, big-boned guy should be 195. So that's our goal, to get him to play this season at 195. He's got good athleticism, he runs very well up and down the court, he jumps out of the gym, but his lateral quickness on defense is not very great, and shedding 15 pounds is going to make a big difference to his game,

MR: How much have you talked to Chinanu, and how has the NBA Draft process been for him so far?

RP: We just said let the combine tell your future. If you're a first round or early second and he wants to go -- you know, this is going to sound strange to our listeners, but I'm not at all concerned at that position. If he's gonna come back, he's gotta come back with the feeling of "look, I'm a lottery pick and I'm really gonna work at my game." If he comes back with the attitude of "I want to shoot more jump shots," then it's not very good.

I'm really not concerned because I've got Mangok, Anas backed up by Matz at that position. So, you know, it's -- I'm okay if he goes. But if he comes back, I want him to come back with the right attitude of saying "look, I'm really gonna get better."

It just doesn't happen by showing up. It happens by hard work. I've seen guys go the other way because they think they're going to get better just by returning, and it just doesn't work that way. You've got to do what Terry Rozier did. He came back to get significantly better from his freshman year, as are Deng Adel and Donovan Mitchell.

JR: What kind of things will Nanu discover when he tests the waters? Is shot blocking something he needs to improve on?

RP: He asked me for advice and I told him "if you go in there trying to show people that you can shoot jump shots, then you're coming back definitely. If you go in there, in a very weak draft, and tell them 'I am a great defender, great shot blocker, great rebounder, and I can pass and score in the low post' then you're gonna have a shot." But if you go in there trying to show them that you've got a great 15-foot jump shot, you might as well not even go, just get back here and start working on your game because you're gonna be at Louisville next year.

MR: What advice have you given Damion Lee and Trey Lewis in recent weeks?

RP: Well I saw them both at the Derby, and they're going to work out for teams. It would be very difficult for Trey to make an NBA roster. He's going to have to go either the NBDL route or go overseas for a year or two. Damion, right now, he goes from late second to not being drafted. He's going to have to show them like Terry Rozier.

Terry Rozier was middle second when he went to the workouts, and he just persevered so hard that the Celtics didn't want to gamble at taking him at 30 and they took him at 16. It's the same thing with those guys. They're gonna have to go to workouts and outplay some very good basketball players to have a shot at getting drafted in the second round.

JR: How can Quentin improve his lateral quickness?

RP: Well it's just hard work. He's gotta learn to guard the guy on the ball. I tell our guys that the best form of self-improvement is to play a lot of 1-on-1 and limit your dribbles. So if I was playing you 1-on-1 and we were at the 3-point line as our starting point, limit your dribbles to a maximum of 3 to 2. On a missed shot, dribble it out to the 3-point line and now you have as many as you want and you can work on your 1-on-1 moves with the dribble. But don't take more than two or three with a score.

Don't play 1-on-1 basketball for more than five or seven points. Playing to 11 or 15 is of no value because you don't play any defense, and because you're tired, you start taking bad jump shots. Playing games to five, getting a drink and then coming back, is the most beneficial way. That's what Q needs to do.

Two guys I don't concern myself with are Mangok and Q. Q's gonna be the quarterback on our basketball team. Mangok's gonna be the emotional leader. I don't concern myself with those guys.

I'll tell you who's working his butt off because I missed him earlier -- really, really working as hard as I've ever seen him and he had a great spring, and that's Jaylen Johnson.

MR: Is Mangok all the way back right now?

RP: Well, he was, and then he just tweaked his foot the other day. Basically what it is is scar tissue in there that's breaking up from where that screw is. There's scar tissue in there and you break it up and it hurts for about three or four days. Doesn't hurt when he walks, but we told him to take a week off before you come back and you'll be fine.

JR: I get the feeling that you're really bullish about this Cardinal team right now because of their chemistry and talent across the board.

RP: Well, we had awesome chemistry last year and we ended up having a terrific team that could have gone far in the NCAA, you never know. Everybody coming back is terrific, and V.J. King is an incredible young man. I don't know Tony Hicks as well, but obviously I'll get to know him when he comes it. But yeah, they're a great group of guys, they work really hard. I've been toying with some things defensively that I'm very excited about.

The thing that's different is we're now going to play one of the tougher schedules that we've had in the last 10-12 years. You're talking about a neutral site with Indiana where we'd split the arena -- if that game goes through. Then we go at Grand Canyon for what will be a sold out game. Believe it or not, that's a very strong homecourt advantage for them. Then you're playing in the Big 10 Challenge, you're playing Kentucky at home, you're playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis. And then we took teams like Akron, who are top 100 RPI teams and they have a lot of players back, and we looked at that as well so we would have a top five schedule at the end of the year.

MR: What went into that scheduling deal where Louisville ended up playing a road game at Grand Canyon this year?

RP: Well, it's similar to Western Kentucky. It's a 2-for-1 deal. I knew it'd be a very difficult road game, and I like to do that every now and then, go into a place where it'll be a very difficult road environment and get your younger players to understand that tough environment to get ready for the ACC. I don't mind doing it. We beat them by a lot of points by last year, but they won I think 27 games last year. We caught 'em playing on a Thursday night, traveling in on a Friday and playing in a Saturday afternoon game. So we know they're much better than that, and they've got most of their team back, and it'll be a heck of a game.

JR: What does VJ King need to work on right now?

RP: He's a basketball junkie, he knows what to work on. Obviously he's coming in and he'll be seeing significant minutes as a freshman, but he's not going to really know what to work on until he gets with us. It'll be very, very competitive -- you know I've seen Deng Adel go from -- remember, he had knee surgery so our fans only saw a glimpse in Puerto Rico of what he can do, a glimpse at the end of the year. But this is a young man (Adel) that I'll venture to say, without exaggeration, if he learns to finish and he keeps on improving, he'll be the highest draft choice I've had since I've been here.

JR: Do you still compare Deng's game to Francisco Garcia?

RP: Different, he's a better athlete than Francisco. Much quicker, much more explosive. Can he be as good a shooter? That remains to be seen. Francisco was a better ball-handler -- Francisco was more of a guard, he was a better passer. Deng Adel at 6'7.5 is more of a wing who has to learn guard skills, and he is learning those.

MR: Are you still looking to add a player to the roster for next year?

RP: If I had my druthers, I would like to take the hit of two scholarships right now. Because we have the young man who transferred in from Asheville, we have David Levitch, and I'd like to take it and get that behind us. We've already taken the year with the tournament. Unless there was a great transfer or a great person that can come in and really make a difference for our team, I'd like to take both right now and get it behind us. We've already taken the hit with no recruiting in April, we're gonna take a hit in July a little bit, so I'd like to get everything behind us so I don't have to think of this travesty ever again.

MR: Is that an option for you guys?

RP: Yes it is. We have to take two in three years.

JR: Recruiting strategy has really changed a lot now hasn't it, for you and your staff?

RP: It has. The most important thing was I couldn't lose Kenny Johnson, because it would just break the continuity of what we've worked on with freshmen and sophomores. So we kept continuity on our staff and we're moving forward.

MR: Without an overseas trip this year, what can you do this summer to make sure you're still ahead of the game this fall?

RP: Well remember we had a lot of new people last year and so they had to get to know each other. We've got 10, 11 guys coming back that all know one another and played together last season. So from a continuity standpoint, it's very easy right now, where it wasn't last year.

JR: Your thoughts on the Golden State Warriors?

RP: Steph Curry is great for the game of basketball, because every young kid out there who's picking up a basketball thinks someday he could become a Steph Curry. They look at him not being overly big -- you know it's very difficult to say "I'm gonna be LeBron" because he's 6'8, solid muscle, 260 pounds; you can't envision that. But you can envision yourself being the next Steph Curry. He's awesome for the game and the Golden State Warriors, playing small ball and shooting a lot of threes, are awesome for the game.

Cleveland, now, is on a great run because they've become a team that can make a lot of threes. There are a lot of things that I'm toying with on offense and defense that I think will be very exciting for the fans.

MR: How excited are you for Billy Donovan and the success he's having with Oklahoma City?

RP: Very excited. I was with a gentlemen in New York -- I went to Howard Garfinkel's funeral -- and we were having dinner and he was saying that he thought San Antonio could upset Golden State, and I said well you're assuming that they're going to get by the Thunder. I texted him after the game and said "I guess you're not feeling too good right now." But the Thunder better put San Antonio away at their place. If they don't, it's going to be very difficult to win a seventh game there. I'll be going, tonight the Heat are playing in Toronto, and I've got tickets to see Friday night's game. So I'm very excited about that as well.

JR: He was being criticized some during the regular season, but now he's getting a lot of praise. Have you talked with him much about this?

RP: Let me tell you something about criticism. You two guys are critics yourselves, you've got a radio show. John you probably think you know football and boxing, and you're becoming a student of basketball. And Mike thinks he knows basketball and football. I sit there and I say, "I would never do that, I would never do that" and I catch myself saying "that guy knows his team a lot better."

In college, you're not judged on anything except the tournament. In the NFL, you're judged by the playoffs. Baseball, same thing. It's all based on, especially in basketball, what you do in the playoffs and the NCAA Tournament. It's all gauged on that, so you can throw out all the criticism, all the second-guessing in the regular season. You better bring your expertise in the postseason, and that's what Billy Donovan's doing right now. He's doing a masterful job.

One of my ex-managers, Frank Vogel, did what I thought was one of the best jobs in the NBA this season.

MR: What did you think about the respective rookie seasons of Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell?

RP: Terry didn't play much in the regular season, but performed admirably in the playoffs. I didn't watch too much of Houston to be honest with you. But Terry, I watched him in the playoffs, saw him at the Derby. He's very happy, and I'm sure Montrezl is happy.

There's a lot of discontent in the NBA when you're not past the first/second round. Look at Frank. I just said he had a terrific year, and Larry wanted to have a different voice in there. The Memphis coach did a great job with all the injuries they had, and he got picked up immediately by Sacramento.

The NBA's a different animals. It's like the NFL. You're hired to be fired. There are very few Popovichs around. So you've just gotta roll with it and understand that you'll have your run. Brad Stevens did a phenomenal job this year, Billy Donovan did a phenomenal job this year, and they play musical chairs at that level.

JR: How far do you want to take your passion for horse racing?

RP: At one time I owned 15 horses and owned probably 50-60 percent of those horses. Now I own five or six and I own maybe 30-40 percent of it, and that's more than enough for me. So I am taking it down. Doug O'Neill trains one or two horses for me on the West Coast. That whole barn is a great friend because Jack Sisterson is a Louisville graduate, played on the soccer team and I believe played on the football team as well as a kicker.

We had an awesome Derby this year. I got a chance to visit with Bobby Petrino, we were on the same floor. I'm fine owning five or six horses and fine if I never have another in the Derby. I got to go to two, won two champagne stakes, and that was enough. All I'm interested in is Final Fours and coaching basketball.

MR: Have you decided who the captain or captains of this year's team are going to be?

RP: I have not decided on that yet. I'm going to wait and see. Obviously, Mangok is going to be one. And then if I had to guess right now, I'd say Quentin Snider is going to be the other one. But I have not made up my mind whether I'm gonna let the guys vote, whether I'm gonna pick it, whether I'm gonna let them vote and then not be happy with it and change my mind. I don't know.

They're a great group of guys. Anybody on that team could be a captain because they're all tremendous people. But I like Quentin and Mangok. If I had to make a decision, I like that very much.

JR: You mentioned Bobby Petrino, when you look at all the success that U of L is having, it's got to feel good to be in the company of some of the best coaches in the country.

RP: Yeah, women's volleyball had a great season, Jeff Walz did a terrific job. Now I know for a fact -- in my opinion, and I'm like you guys, I know a limited amount of football -- but that freshman quarterback is going to be a Heisman Trophy candidate. I think he is going to be tremendous this year. I was speaking to Bobby about that very thing -- not mentioning Heisman Trophy. Now I say "candidate," that doesn't mean that he's going to be a finalist or that he's going to win it, but he's going to be a candidate, just like some of our guys might be candidates to be All-Americans.

Tom is, excluding me, he's great at picking coaches. I mean, he's great at it. He made one mistake and that was me, but everywhere else he's brilliant at it.

You know, we went through a tough year, and Tom stood by me 100 percent. I didn't have to prove to him that I didn't know anything. He knew right away that I didn't know anything. He knows what I believe in as far as rules are concerned. The other coaches all rallied around me. They came over and said, "what do you need?" And that to me, along with Tom and the chairman of the board, made me never even think of 1 percent of packing it in. Because of the coaches, the chairman of the board, Larry Benz, and of course our leader Tom Jurich, I never even thought about it, never even crossed my mind, but to just dig in and do the right thing.

I'm so appreciative of their friendships. Obviously, Tom and I, we'll probably go out together some time in the future. And then certainly the players this year were just incredible. Larry Benz really touched my heart in what he did.

MR: With the end of last season being so difficult, do you find yourself chomping at the bit more now than usual to get back at it and into next season?

RP: Look, I know a lot more today than I did during the season as far as what went on and what didn't go on. I wasn't believing a book written by someone who infiltrated and hurt our program and then writes a book, I'll tell you that, I'm not putting any stock in that.

All I'll say is that the university, and Tom Jurich and President Ramsey made all the right moves. Now did our players suffer? Did our coaches suffer? Yes. But they made all the right moves. I can tell all our fans out there.

I don't agree with the process and what goes on with innocent people not being able to play. But the University of Louisville, Dr. Ramsey, Tom Jurich, made all the right moves, because today I know a lot more than what I didn't know back then. So you can rest assured that our leadership is great. I believe in them 100 percent. Dr. Ramsey has done some awesome things for our university. Tom Jurich is the best AD in the business. Their leadership I support 100 percent, and everything they did.

That being said, am I chomping at the bit? Yes. But the last three or four years, I don't have to chomp at the bit, I've been chomping every single day because they've been so much fun. Now there was a lot of stress last year for the first time in my life, in basketball. I like pressure, I don't like stress. Stress is the enemy that you try to stay away from.

But we're gonna do all the right things and get ourselves back on track to being another great basketball team like the ones we've had the past five years.

MR: Knowing what you do know now, do you think this is all essentially in the rearview mirror?

RP: I do. I do. I think we've done all the right things. If you look at the history with this sort of thing -- you know, I never concerned myself with that. Tom felt the same way. We did all the right things, and we feel it's gonna end. It's unfortunate what people did to embarrass and humiliate our program. But we're gonna do the right things to clean it up.

There's certain things you're not gonna know about or just not believe -- somebody said to me the other day, "I cannot believe that my son did what he did. He's just the greatest kid." And I said that you know what, Andre McGee was like a son to me who I believed in and who I trusted. No different than Damion, no different than Trey. Gave him the breaks of his life. Our paths will probably never cross again.

The only thing I will say, and I've said it over and over for a year now, I don't know why he did it. I don't know why. There's no advantage, there's no benefit. I can't understand it. I don't know why. Some day, I hope we do cross paths and I'd like to know why you did such a disgraceful thing and why you got involved with that woman anyway. I don't understand any of it. None of it makes any sense to me, the other coaches, people I speak to. It's just like the father of the son who said to me, "I can't believe he did that."

Anybody with children -- I'm knocking on wood now because my children have been absolutely awesome -- but it happens. It happens. I had a brother who got involved with drugs, and I didn't know why it ever happened. I couldn't figure it out. But it happens in families, it happens in basketball teams. But we're just gonna do the right things to get us through it.

The only thing that can make the fans smile and forget about all this is the product that we put on the floor come September, and we are gonna put a great product on that floor.

MR: Could you forgive Andre McGee?

RP: You know I've spoken long and hard with Bob Russell about this. He's become a real close friend of mine, and Father Bradley as well. And Father Bradley brought up a good point. He said, 'Rick, you're not the Pope, you're light years away from this Pope, and the last Pope before him, he went to prison to forgive the person who shot him.' I said, 'Well, Father, you're not the Pope, I'm not the Pope, and I don't know if I can do that.' But forgiveness is something, and Bob Russell just said the right comment to me, that, 'You're just going to have to find it in your heart to forgive him.' And I'm going to have to do it. Right now, I'm having a very, very difficult time doing it. And it just shows you the small person that I am, for not finding it in my heart. But someday I will. It's just going to take a little time.

JR: Have you been able to talk to the NCAA as of yet?

RP: Well I can't comment on that. I will tell you when Tom came to me and told me that we had to take the tournament away, I asked if he wanted to spend the weekend to think about it, and he said no, he wanted to do it now. That's when I just totally got behind. Once he did it, I'm 100 percent anything that man does. He could tell me, 'I know it's dirty, I know it's murky, but you're gonna have to swim across the Ohio River. Even though you're not a great swimmer.' I'd say let me put a wetsuit on at least, and there I'd go.

Once he said that, I was 100 percent, I just wasn't allowed to say certain things. I was told, matter of fact, not to comment on things, and I stopped commenting because the NCAA can add violations if you do say, "we met, and I found out this and this." So let's -- we don't want any more violations, so let's not comment on it.

JR: We appreciate the time, we know you're busy.

RP: Actually I'm not very busy because I'm going to a Marlins baseball game and then the Heat game. And I just came in early. I actually asked Vinny Tatum to do me a favor because my daughter's coming down here with 18 people for a bachelorette party. I begged her not to go to Las Vegas, so she's coming down here and I've got Vinny going around with them just to make sure they just have fun and then get the hell out of here. My son-in-law is going out to Las Vegas with my children, and I'm fine with that. That's ok. I don't want my daughter -- oh, I just want Vinny to watch out for them. He's promised me a two drink limit. And Mike, you know Vinny, and so do you John, so you know that's very difficult, but he's promised me.

MR: I don't know if he's going to keep the promise. I would not take those Vegas odds.

You can listen to the interview in its entirety here: