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Transcript: Rick Pitino talks current team, '96 Kentucky team, and getting booed at Rupp

Here's the interview:

And here's the transcript:

On the current state of the team

We've been doing individual instruction. We just finished individuals the last couple of days. So we've done that. We're going to go team practice on the 15th. That's when the NCAA allows team practice.

Breaking down the current positives and negatives of the team

Let me give you the good first and the areas that concern me second.

The good thing is that Deng Adel and Donovan Mitchell have really worked hard to improve their shooting. That was the one area where when they first came in where they were good, but they weren't great. That's one thing we need, is we need scoring. We have great athleticism, but we need scoring. Donovan and Deng are both ready for a starring role in that area. So that's a very positive thing.

From there, we go, probably the next guy would be Jaylen Johnson, who's really improved quite a bit from an intensity level/maturity standpoint. He's relentless in his work ethic, and that's really, really good.

The next person that sticks out to me is Quentin Snider. He's shooting the ball well, he's running the team well, he's very steady. He plays very hard, he does the right things on the court. That's something that's very positive.

The frontcourt is a strength, but I would say that the next guy that's sticking out in all the workouts is V.J. King. He's someone that, as a freshman, you won't be afraid to put in against Duke and say 'he'll get the job done.'

Those guys really stick out. That doesn't mean that Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud and some of the other guys aren't sticking out, it's just that I wouldn't say they had awesome summers. There are days where I'll say, "God-dawgit, Ray Spalding looks awesome." And there are other days where it's a little inconsistent. And that's the role that you see a lot of times as sophomores. They have up and down days. But that's not the case with the other guys. The other guys have been bringing it every single time.

Now, the areas that concern me greatly -- one is the schedule. Are we gonna be ready to play this type of schedule? It has to be early. My teams don't usually play great basketball early on, but now they've gotta be ready. We've talked about our style of play and how we're going to play, and the guys are working very, very hard at understanding that style. We've showed them a lot of film on how we're going to play.

It's going to be a little different than we've played in the past. We're not going to play as much matchup zone. We're going to press a lot more, but not a 2-2-1 press, more of a press like when I was back at Kentucky -- or more like the way West Virginia pressed last year, if you watched West Virginia. So we've been working very hard on those things, and everybody's ready to go as far as that's concerned. To play that way, you've gotta use your bench, so we're ready to do that.

Does the schedule change the way you prepare?

Well, you've got guys with experience, but they were role players, and now they're stepping into starring roles. So it's a lot different.

On who backs up Q at the point

That's another weakness that we have, if you want to call it a weakness. You have no legitimate experienced backup point guard. So you're going to go with a transfer from Penn, or Ryan McMahon's gotta step up and learn how to play that position. Ryan's looking really good in practice. Shooting the heck out of the basketball, I mean, he's without question the best shooter on the team. So now he's gotta go from just shooting the basketball to learning how to play the point and defending that position. So we're going to go a little bit by committee.

Can David Levitch play a little bit at the backup? We don't know. That's a question mark. Another question mark is can we get the weight back on Anas Mahmoud. It's been a struggle. And then Mangok. How's he gonna come back.

If I had to say how we open the season, I would say it would be Ray Spalding at the 5 and Jaylen at the 4. Once Mangok's ready to go, then he'll step into that spot.

On what he qualifies as a 'breakout season' for Deng and Donovan

Well, they're gonna have to give us 15-17 points a game, both of those guys. So if we want to pick up our scoring this year, those two are obviously the guys that you have to look at. They've improved the most on the team offensively in terms of their shooting. Both of their shots look great. Donovan Mitchell's really, really worked hard. I'm proud of him. He was an average shooter at best and a freak athlete, but he's become a great basketball shooter. Great arc, great follow-through, and he's developing into quite the basketball player.

Update on Mangok's recovery

He's out of the cast. He's in a walking boot. He's shooting. His body looks great. He's going to take off probably 8-10 pounds for us once he's in shape. But Mangok -- one thing we wanted to do was be very conservative, not rush him, we know our schedule's very tough early on. So like I said, early on it's probably going to be Ray and Jaylen, and then Mangok will be 100% by Dec. 1. He'll be ready to get on the court by the end of September, but it's going to take him a while. You have to remember that he hasn't touched a basketball since last December. So it's going to take him a while to get back into shape and, basketball wise, back into the groove.

On coaching international basketball

I'm glad I did it. I learned a lot. It's a totally different brand of basketball than NBA or college. And certainly I enjoyed doing it. I would never do it again, but I enjoyed doing it.

So if team USA asked you to be the next coach you wouldn't do it?

Well, Greg Poppovich is gonna be the next coach for Team USA. But if Italy came knocking and asked, I would not be interested. It takes you away from recruiting too much. It's something that I really wanted to do to learn the international game, and I enjoyed doing that, but it's not something I would do again.

On the implementation of new sets

It's going well. We've really worked hard this summer on developing our press and how we're going to press. Now we've pressed every year I've been at Louisville, but it's been more of a 2-2-1 press, falling back into a matchup zone, and we're not going to play too much of that this year. There will be hardly any of that. We're going to be playing mostly pressure man-to-man.

On David Padgett's new role as an assistant

Well David gets out there and plays defense on the guys. Bangs with them. Physically, he gets out there and defends them. Obviously, it's great to have -- physically, Kenny Johnson and Mike Balado are not in the shape to go defend Anas Mahmoud and some of these guys. David Pagett goes out and defends those guys in all these drills, so that's a big asset to have.

On Matz

He's definitely improving, but like I said, he hasn't made the progress of Jaylen Johnson, Donovan Mitchell or Deng Adel. Those three have made the most. And Ryan McMahon's really gotten a lot better. Ryan McMahon is a great shooter with great arc. I told our guys in our morning meeting, "I don't care what it takes, we've gotta make that guy a defensive player." I don't care if he has to try and draw a charge on every single play, but he's gotta become a defensive player because he's gotta see some minutes this year.

On Mangok being a critical piece come March

You know I really don't -- now, don't take this the wrong way ... we need Mangok to reach our goals, but that's not a real pivotal thing for us. We've got Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmous, Matz Stockman, we're backed up. Now if you're talking about backup point guard, that would be a concern. But Mangok Mathiang, that would be nine or ten on the list of concerns. We do need him, and he will be healthy, he will be 100%, but the fact that we're not rushing him shows you how deep we are at that spot.

Power forward, no problems. Wings, no problems. I am concerned -- now, Tony can play the backup point, even though that's not a natural spot for him. But I'm more concerned with Quentin Snider rolling his ankle, because every year I've had him, he's rolled his ankle. I'm more concerned with, if Q has an injury and has to miss a game or two, who do we go with?

On the excitement for the upcoming season

I'm more concerned with, on Nov. 1, when those exhibition games roll around, let's be ready. I've never done that in my coaching career, but this schedule is the toughest that I've ever faced as a basketball coach because of the conference we're in. Purdue's going to be a top 15 team, Indiana's going to be a top 15 team, Kentucky's a top five team, the Battle of Atlantis will have some top 20 teams. We've gotta be ready. And there's some teams like William & Mary that are coming in, Long Beach State -- we looked at their RPI, we said they were going to be top 100, they've got three or four starters back, we must be ready for those teams. So that's my biggest concern right now, is let's be ready come Oct. 1.

On being disliked by the Kentucky and the '96 reunion

You know, the players all said "coach, what are we going to do about a reunion?" I said, well, there was nothing planned by UK. And the reason -- look, I'm the Louisville coach now. I wouldn't want to go back to Rupp Arena and take away from those guys. I take enough abuse when I go in there once every two years. I don't need to take away from the players.

We didn't go back to Providence for our reunion to Providence, we went to Miami. That's where we had our reunion. So I suggested to the guys, "look if we're not gonna -- let's go to Miami. I had my Providence College team there and we had a blast." So the players all unanimously said let's do that.

So we can get away -- we have hats made up, we have -- you know you're talking about a team that averaged 91.4 points per game, averaged 46, 47 deflections per game, won 26 in a row. This is a team that to me, in the modern era, is the greatest team that's ever played the game. Nine guys that went on to have NBA experience, plus you had seniors on that team. That was the most devastating team that I've ever been around. The only team that I thought that could beat us was my second unit. We averaged in the SEC, when the SEC was very strong, 24 point average victories per game, 22 per game for the season and an average of 91 points per game. That team, statistically -- and we stopped every great player we went up against, whether it was Tim Duncan or whomever.

So to go back there -- I wouldn't be able to go, it would be taking away something, and we didn't want to do that. We wanted no fanfare, we've got a great weekend planned, and we just wanted to get away. We don't harbor any bitterness. I'm sure Kentucky's going to do something for those guys this year at one of their basketball games. That's not what we wanted to accomplish. My arrival there and everybody booing takes away from the magnificent play of these guys.

Does it surprise you that you get booed at Rupp Arena?

Remember, there's not one person in the student body that knows who the hell I am besides the Louisville basketball coach. That was 1996. They weren't even born. The only people that remember me are the people who are in their 50s. They don't even remember me. All I am right now is the enemy, the Louisville basketball coach. Yes, my name is hanging up in the rafters, but they don't even look up and associate. I'm just the Louisville coach, and that's what it is.

It's something that I'm not even a little concerned about. All I'm concerned about right now is having a great weekend with a great group of guys, a great basketball team, a team that I think is the best basketball team of the modern era. I look at all these teams every year that win the national championship, and there's not a team that can come close to that team.

Biggest concern facing his current team

I think we've got to become one of the best defensive teams that I've coached at Louisville. Now we've been No. 1 in Pomeroy and Sagarin rankings and all that, but I'm talking we have got to become a devastating defensive team where everybody when they walk in says, "I don't know how we're going to go against this press." I think we have the athleticism to do that, I think we have the depth to do that, we have the shot blocking to do that. So I'm encouraged about that.

Where are the points going to come from? We don't know, because we don't have one guy who averaged double figures coming back. I sort of think it'll come from Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel, Quentin Snider. That sticks out. Our frontcourt will do it by committee. They're shot blockers and rebounders, but they're not shooters necessarily, but they'll score inside, they'll score off the backboard.

On this year's Duke team

Now I was just bragging about the UK team, but this is one of the best teams in modern history as well. They've got the top two freshmen in the country. They've got returning veterans that a lot of people thought one or two of them would go pro. They've got a 5th year senior, or 6th year senior, coming back. So they've got one of the strongest teams -- I spoke to some coaches the other day who think they could go undefeated. Now I don't necessarily believe that, but they're not going to have many losses, because that's as strong a basketball team -- in terms of experience, talent, shooting ability -- as you'll see in college basketball.

On the ACC overall

It's going to be very strong, much stronger than it's been. I think we're a borderline top 10, top 15 team. North Carolina's a borderline top 10, top 15 team. Duke's the No. 1 team in the country. Syracuse is going to be extremely strong again. Notre Dame is going to be extremely strong again. Virginia is going to be extremely strong again. All the teams that we're playing twice are going to be ranked and highly touted. Boston College will still be rebuilding, but everyone else will have arrived at the party.

Damion Lee update

Spoke to Damion yesterday. He's going to be trying out for a professional team. He asked me not to say who that professional team is, but he will be trying out for a professional team. As you know, Trey Lewis is playing overseas for a German professional team and he's having a blast. He texted me yesterday to say that he's loving his teammates and his coaches. So he's doing well also.