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April 7, 2013
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and student‑athletes. We can get things started with Coach Pitino.
Q. What do you think this team has really been about this year outside the nuts and bolts? Some thoughts about the bond that these guys have had that has gotten them through so many adversities.
COACH PITINO: Well, I think any time you have success, a family is formed. You don't see close‑knit teams, reunions for teams that finish .500. The longer your journey goes, you not only have to overcome adversity, you have to come from behind, hold the lead, you spend so much time together, you form a very big bond.
The one thing that struck me, I had my team watch the Jimmy V documentary, which I cried 50% of the time. The guys afterwards, we were the No.1 seeds, we weren't Cinderellas like NC State, but I wanted them to understand that because they won a championship, for the rest of their lives they will sit around that table, and every year, they will get together for the rest of their lives.
Q. One of the concerns before last night's game was trying to stay out of foul trouble with the shortened rotation. That did become an issue last night. How will you address that for tomorrow's game?
COACH PITINO: Well, I'll tell you, it affected us not in terms of foul trouble. It affected us in the fact that guys were afraid to foul, and their pressure relented until we obviously had to try to win the game.
So they were all trying to play very cautious, didn't get after people. Besides the great play of Wichita State, it was one of the reasons we didn't force turnovers. Everybody was afraid to foul. Gorgui had fouls. He was afraid to block shots. Russ and Peyton were being overly cautious.
Unfortunately, when you play that way, you shoot yourself in the foot. You have to play with foul trouble, use the bench, use potential superstars like Tim Henderson (smiling).
Q. Could you talk in a historic sense, I know it's all about the team and winning, but at the same time you have a chance to do something no coach has ever done, win a championship with two different schools. What does approaching that accomplishment mean?
COACH PITINO: Well, I'm going to be honest with you. I haven't thought about it for one second until you mentioned it. It's really not that significant to me.
We have built a brand on Louisville first. Everything we do is about the team, about the family. I'd be a total hypocrite if I said it's really important. It really is not important.
I want to win because I'm a part of this team. That's it. Those of us in team sports always think that way.
A guy like Russ Smith in the beginning, when he first came in, never thought that way. It was about points. It was about scoring. Now Russ Smith has gone full cycle, it's all about the team. When he tries to score more, in the back of his mind, he said, If I don't, the team won't win.
All these guys just bought in. None of us really care. It's just when we lost three in a row, we set our goals because we wanted to win a championship. If it's to be, it's to be. If it's not, it's not to be.
Q. Rick, I think it was earlier in year you talked about enjoying having players now for two, three, four years. With that in mind, the emotions of Gorgui, Peyton, the four‑year journey with you.
COACH PITINO: Gorgui is a three year so far. If he played like he did last night, it will are four years (laughter). I say that in jest because he is going to go pro.
You know, all these guys are so different, that's what makes up a great family. I have five children. None of 'em are alike. These four guys up here are so different. Like I'll get on Chane unmercifully. He gives me that look. He knows I love him. He knows why I'm doing it. He says, Yes, sir, I got it.
Russ, I don't even bother because he doesn't listen to a word I say.
Peyton listens to every little thing. He understands.
You know, they're all unselfish. If this was another team, you'd hear Wayne Blackshear saying to someone, Man, I wish I could have played more. He knows Luke Hancock's on fire. He's up there, the biggest cheerleader on the bench. One game Chane didn't play. Montrezl Harrell, the Syracuse game in the Garden, Chane's the biggest cheerleader. I went to say something to him. He said, Don't say anything, stay with the freshmen.
That's just what we've had the last three years. In this culture today, I just don't see it anywhere in our society.
Q. Rick, you've had really a remarkable week. It's an open secret you're going to be in the Hall of Fame. Your son gets the Minnesota job. Playing for the national championship. Do you wonder if you're pressing your luck or do you indeed have a deal with the devil?
COACH PITINO: I can give you some years where I can name the other way. So you take it in stride.
I try not to ever get too low. I fight adversity as hard as I can fight it, not get too low. When good things happen, I don't really embrace it. I just say it's a lucky day.
We're about the team. If we're good enough to win a championship, we know we have to play a great game to beat Michigan. With one day prep, this is probably the toughest prep day we'll ever have with how many things they run.
I've known John a long time, back to West Virginia, I know what he's all about, and that's about great things. These guys have tremendous respect for.
With us it's just about winning. The horse race, I hope you guys bet and made some money. Outside that, it's all about the trainer, the jockey, the horse. Not about us. That's great.
Outside of us, Richard getting the Minnesota job is one of the best things that could ever happen to me.
Q. Rick, in January your team was named No.1 in the polls, then you beat Connecticut that night. Afterwards you said you had told the players, Enjoy being No.1 'cause it's going to go away, but it's going to come back to you. What did you understand then that made you so sure it was going to come back to them?
COACH PITINO: Well, last year Fred Hina told me in the amount of minutes that we were out, it was more than any of the nine years prior or 10 years prior to me being there. There were people saying in town, I was working the players too hard. I couldn't believe what I was reading or hearing because we were having concussions, just a rash of injuries.
We stuck together like a fist. We never deviated. The good thing about these guys, they never read comments about themselves. They're college kids. Chane is more interested in the next date he's going to have that week. He's not interested in what they say.
These guys have lives. You forget sometimes, they're college guys. They want to have fun like some of us used to have 70 years ago. They're just college guys. They stick together, they have fun. All I told them is, when we got to be No.1, we're in the Big East, You all know we're going to have some bumps. The Big East has been one of the greatest conferences of all times. When you play in the Big Ten, the ACC, the Big East, you're going to have some bumps.
These guys never rattled. They believed in themselves. We knew we didn't have injuries. Other than Gorgui out for the Duke game, we didn't have injuries, did we?
RUSS SMITH: I had.
COACH PITINO: Mentally, though (laughter).
Q. What does it mean beyond yourself and the players for this school to have a chance to win the title?
COACH PITINO: You talk about a lucky couple days for me. You think about a program that we get a new football coach who's tremendous and everybody's after him. Turns down mega millions, sticks with Louisville. Then goes out, one of the biggest underdogs I hear in the history of a college bowl game, beats Florida, the No.4 ranked team in the country.
Then our women have one of the greatest upsets in the history of women's basketball in beating Baylor, scoring 82 points against that team.
We make our run. Not talking about all the other sports.
So our school is built around Gorgui and these guys, Russ Smith took off all his clothes, except his underpants, of course, and painted his body red for a women's soccer game in the cold.
Now you know what I'm coaching (smiling).
That's what these guys are all about. Gorgui goes to every women's game. These guys go to volleyball games. It's a pretty cool school. It's a blue‑collar school. If we raise money and built facilities, we don't really do it with alumni. Some we do. We're not who's who like Harvard and Yale in the alumni world. We're a blue‑collar school that supports each other. One of the coolest places I've ever worked.
Q. Rick, how have you changed from the '96 coach who won the championship? How have the years mellowed you or altered you?
COACH PITINO: I think the Boston Celtics changed me the most. I don't think we've changed in terms of what we teach and the values we have as a team. That '96 team was very close. We did the same things technically. But personally you always change as you get older.
I was watching a press conference, and I know Jim Boeheim so well. It was typical Jim last night, what went on. But you all got to realize something ‑ I'm probably getting close to that ‑ it wasn't the fact he was upset that you were asking whether he'd step down. You were asking a man, how old is Jim, 65? What you're basically telling him is, You're getting old. You're reminding him of that.
Inside, that's what bothers us because we all want to be Peter Pan and stay young. It wasn't the fact whether he would retire or not, because that's a normal question to ask somebody after a Final Four. But it bothers us if some of you are my age, 60, Man, you've had a great career, guy from the Indianapolis Star, are you thinking of hanging it up? You don't want to hear that because it tells you you're getting a little old and you don't like that. I know the feeling.
So it was typical Jim. But that's why it bothers people like us if you say that. So please don't say that to me tomorrow (smiling).
Q. This has been viewed as kind of an ugly college basketball season. You're close to winning it all this year. Do you agree, disagree?
COACH PITINO: Ugly in what way?
Q. Not a lot of scoring, a lot of physical play, difficult to watch at times. I don't even know if you agree.
COACH PITINO: I do agree. I think Jay Bilas has done a tirade on the way college is being played. I started thinking about it because I was on a committee many years ago with a bunch of coaches, Pat Riley, Larry Brown, general managers, about 18 of us in the room. David Stern called the meeting to change professional basketball. I think at the time there were only one or two teams breaking 100. Pro basketball was ugly, just like you're saying now.
We talked about the zone. We talked about eight seconds in the backcourt. Then we left the meeting and everybody wanted to do something about it.
Go back a little bit, for all the New York guys. My team with the Knicks averaged 116.8 points in the game and we were third in the league in scoring. The NBA came full cycle, couldn't break 100.
What was happening is, all the things we tried to come up with weren't the answer.
I went to see Earl Clark play against Miami. Earl was playing LeBron. Earl just basically took his hand and just rested it on him and they went, Foul. What happened in the NBA now is they stopped all the arm bars, all the standing up of screens, all the coming across and chopping the guy. They stopped all that. Now there's freedom of movement in the NBA and you see great offense.
When you coach in the Big East, you should wear body guard. Peyton wears body guard, shoulder pads, because you can't cut, can't move. The referees are caught in a quandary. They're saying, We're going to ruin the game, we're on TV.
Jay is 100% right, if we want to get back, take a page out of the NBA, have freedom of movement.
I always liked to watch the old films of Clyde Frazier and, you don't see defense touch anybody at all. Everybody cuts and passes, freedom of movement. That's what we got to get back to. The only way to do it is the first 10 games of the season, the games have to be ugly and the players will adjust, then you will see great offense again.
Like the NBA now, you see all those great scoring teams. Now they have a great product, and we need to go the route of the NBA.
That's a long answer, but I think that's the truth.
Q. Russ, after you won last night, had a chance to sit and watch that game, knowing you get the winner, what did you see out of Michigan?
RUSS SMITH: Well, we know how good Michigan is. They move the ball really well. They have great shooters, great length, great height. We just got to be prepared for all of the sets and the zone offense and the man‑to‑man offense.
But overall, I think it should be a pretty interesting game.
Q. Coach and Russ, do you view this game as any kind of referendum on Big East versus Big Ten? Is it just Louisville versus Michigan and nobody cares about the leagues?
COACH PITINO: If it was the old days, that would be L in the alphabet compared to this. We want to win it for Louisville. That's the only reason we want to live it for. The Big East is no longer the Big East. We're all heartbroken after that. As soon as we started adding Tulsa, SMU, Boise State, we realized it wasn't the Big East any longer.
That doesn't come into play with these guys. I think you would agree, Russ.
RUSS SMITH: I agree.
COACH PITINO: Then say something about it (smiling).
RUSS SMITH: Pretty much it really doesn't matter to me. I view every game the same way. I try to approach every game the same way, with the game on the line. Like the Big East championship, I didn't look at it any different than a regular‑season game. Just try to play hard and win every game.
This is the national championship on the line. We just all got to come prepared to play.
Q. Peyton, tomorrow night is the last game, four years. Does it feel like it's been four years, eight years? Does it seem like just yesterday? What would it mean to go out by cutting down the nets?
PEYTON SIVA: To a lot of people it might seem like eight years. To me, it seems like yesterday, I was a freshman, getting pressed the whole time in practice and turning it over every play (smiling).
For me it's been a great run, long journey, a lot of ups and downs.
I wouldn't trade it for the world. Every day I treat it like it was my last game. Tomorrow, it definitely is. It would be great to go out on a win. I know my team and I will be ready tomorrow. We just got to go out there and play our hardest.
Q. Rick, admire your stance about freedom of movement. Is it compatible with the way you've coached these guys to defend, as hard as they are on the ball handler and on the ball?
COACH PITINO: Yeah, to be honest with you, we don't really foul too much. Russ will once in a while, like, he'll get in the guy's jocks and use his hands. We don't do those things to stop freedom of movement.
Russ, I'll be honest with you, I told him last night, That's a foul, son. He got after the guy, that's a foul.
I'm all for it. We got to get through this year, then something has to be done about it. I complained for three years about coaches having conversations with referees. That was my biggest thing to the commissioners, is how can, during the game, the referees talk to coaches. Can you imagine someone screaming in your ear as you're trying to make a Wall Street trade? You can't do that.
I love the NBA. They drop the ball, ignore you as if you don't exist, go to the other side of the floor.
I think the freedom of movement has to start next year from the exhibition games. Have to allow it to happen. One of the worst things about certain calls, happens to Gorgui all the time, goes up for an offensive rebound, over‑the‑back call, second foul, he's got to sit. You do have to call what you see. But the arm bars, the stopping of the screening and the stopping of the cutting is what was cleaned up the NBA.
Q. For this tournament, have you made a conscious effort to isolate your players from the rest of the media? Did Kevin's injury approach how you've had the guys treat the media this week?
COACH PITINO: We're told what to do here. We didn't even have time for church this morning. They just tell us what to do. We were literally one minute late. My SID was going to fire me. He was yelling at me, screaming at me.
The media, we love talking with you guys, but we do what they tell us. They occupy our time every moment of the day. These guys don't have any time to relax at all.
Q. A lot of the dialogue during this trip to the Final Four has been about comparing what it was like going last year with what it's been like going this year. Do each of you feel like there was a moment, an experience, something that happened at the last Final Four that might have set you on a course to be playing in the game you're going to play tomorrow?
RUSS SMITH: I think the experience playing against Kentucky last year was really necessary for us in yesterday's game. I think the experience factor kind of helped us get over the hump and kind of like keep pushing.
Last year when we played Kentucky, we made a run, but our run stopped. We didn't make the plays necessary to finish the game.
I think yesterday we made a run and we continued our run and got some stops on the defensive end.
I think last year's experience definitely prepared us for yesterday's game and got us here to the national championship.
PEYTON SIVA: I think the same what Russ said. Last year when we played Kentucky, we played 'em tough. It was a tied game at one point. We couldn't get over that hump. This year we've made our run and we stuck with it.
So the experience really helped us out of playing on a big stage like that, playing in front of like the bright lights, just playing together as a team. This year we came back. We was hungry to get back here. This is a blessing from God that nothing serious really happened to us and we was able to stay together, get to this point.
GORGUI DIENG: I think they both are right. You know, last year we lost something very special because we knew we had a chance to win that game. Coach said we need to learn how to kill the game. We didn't do it last year. Last year we keep pushing it and never let up.
Q. Peyton and Gorgui, you guys had difficult games last night. How do you approach the final? Is there a fear or a possibility of overcompensating in trying to bounce back from tough games? And, Peyton, talk about the matchup with Trey Burke.
PEYTON SIVA: You know, for me it's really not about having a bad game. I did some good things, I did some bad things. I never really worry about my shooting or anything like that. My whole thing is as long as I go out there and play good defense, I'll be fine.
As for tomorrow against Trey Burke, he's a great player. But we know that. We have to contain him. We got to play a good game against their whole team. Mitch McGary is having one of the best tournaments of anybody. Tim Hardaway, Glenn Robinson, Stauskas, they're all playing well right now. It has to be a team effort for us.
Trey Burke is a great player, but we have to come out there, play our game, execute our plays.
GORGUI DIENG: I didn't have my A game last night. But we got a chance to win. You know, I already forget about it. Just pay a lot of attention to the film and try to have a good practice and going to be ready for tomorrow.
But I think it don't make any sense to think about the game yesterday. We win, we survived. Probably tomorrow I got a chance to redeem myself again.
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank the student‑athletes.
I'd like to introduce Dan Gavitt from the NCAA for a special presentation.
DAN GAVITT: I just want to take two minutes, if I may. In this 75th Celebration of March Madness, there are so many people who have been such a big part of this tournament for so long. There's one gentleman with us here today that has loved, respected and cherished this game, the players, the coaches that play this game, told their stories so well.
Now in his 35th year of covering the Final Four. Unfortunately doctors are telling him he may not been able to continue covering the Final Four as he has been able to. We didn't want to miss the opportunity today to honor someone who has meant so much to our game, to all of you, as your peers and colleagues.
You've been covering the Final Four for 35 years as the AP National College reporter. He's an alum of St. John's University where he was mentored by Coach Lou Carnesecca and Luke Kaiser, the athletic director there.
I know there are many here that love and cherish this game, and surely as much as Oc, but maybe no one more than Oc. I know he's had the great respect of coaches and players that he's covered all the years. I thank Coach Pitino to honor Jim O'Connell from the Associated Press.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions for Coach Pitino.
Q. Your history with Coach Beilein, just wondered your impressions of what makes his offenses so unique, what you respect about him there.
COACH PITINO: We were lucky enough in 2005, we had seven players on our team and we could only practice with six because Otis George had a stress fracture and couldn't practice. The last 10 games of the season we were playing all zone and couldn't press. One of the few teams for me that got to a Final Four and didn't press.
I remember it. I hope I'm right on the numbers. We were down 20, like, 12 minutes into the game. Literally his son made a three when he was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That was, I believe, the 10th or 11th three that half, and we extended our zone.
We hadn't practiced. We had one day to prepare. We didn't go through one man play. I took the stat sheet, tore it up. I said, Guys, I'm sorry to say this, we can't beat 'em playing zone. We have got to press, play all man.
We spent our 12 minutes in the locker room clearing the chairs. They ran more of a Princeton offense back then, going through the back cuts. I said, I know we got seven guys, you're going to have to press. We cut it to 12 at the half. We wound up winning it in overtime.
But his offensive sets, both against man and zone, he's one of the best offensive minds in basketball.
The other thing about him, he really recruits to his system maybe better than any coach, as Jim recruits to his zone defensively, he recruits to his system. He gets everybody that can pass, catch and shoot. Then if you get up on 'em, they can ball fake and drive.
Mitch McGary has gone from a raw basketball player to a David Lee in the shortest period of time. He reminds me so much of David. His skill level is great.
So John is a great teacher. Their players are great. Mitch McGary has improved so much in a short period of time to be one of the better players in the country right now.
Q. You understand the state of Kentucky as well as anybody. How would you describe this fan base right now and how starved are they for this after Kentucky won it last year?
COACH PITINO: I'm sure they are. But to tell you the truth, I have about as little interaction with fans and the media as any person probably in coaching. I just live in my own cocoon. I don't read, I don't listen. I just coach and enjoy that aspect of it.
I have probably one of the best relationships with the Louisville media as any coach in the country because I don't read 'em and I don't listen to 'em. That's not a negative. There are great writers in our town. It happened a long time ago when I was in Lexington. I made up my mind with the media. I want to treat everybody as if they're my friends. You have to say bad things about us sometimes because we have bad nights.
I don't know what's going on. I'm sure they're enthusiastic. I'm sure they're fired up. I can tell you one thing, I don't subscribe to the fact that Kentucky won it. I don't get into that. I love Kentucky. My eight years there were Camelot. I got nothing ever negative to say about them or their program. I love Louisville. I want us to be successful.
I rooted for them to win the championship last year. I think 90% of the Louisville fan base wanted them to win it. There's 10% on both sides that don't subscribe to that.
Q. You mentioned the family kind of atmosphere. Was there something that you did to change and foster that or was it more trying to recruit guys that had the personalities that would blend in like this? Is it because of past players that may not have been about the team?
COACH PITINO: I think a family is formed when you have an incredible work ethic and you have incredible discipline. No bond can be formed just by love.
When you struggle together and work together and you get tired together and fatigued together, you become a family. That's the only way it happens.
When the struggles happen through hard work and discipline, you become a family. If everything's given to you all the time, you don't become a family.
Q. Speaking of family, Luke's performance last night came in front of his dad, who is not really in great health. I know you have immense respect for that young man. How much did it grow last night?
COACH PITINO: That's the first thing he said to me when he came up. He said, Coach, thanks so much. My dad got a chance to see it. That was the proudest moment for him 'cause his father has been in poor health.
His father getting to that game, being there, was awesome. When we went to the press conference, he has really bad shoulders. This kid is the toughest kid I've ever coached times 10. He goes through a routine of heating and icing, whatever they do. They wanted him to be on the CBS show at halftime. I said, He's got to get treatment.
Steve Scheer said, who we going to be on with? Obviously if it was Digger, we both would have left. He said it was going to be Greg Anthony, Kenny 'The Jet,' Charles Barkley, Gottlieb, Greg Gumbel. He said, Barkley is going to be there? I'd like to meet him.
It was a great time for him having his dad there and he loved meeting Charles.
Q. Assuming the sources are correct, tomorrow you will go in with Jerry Tarkanian. Did you take anything from him? Talk about his impact on the game.
COACH PITINO: If he is in, and I don't know that to be a fact, I really don't. I read what you read on the ticker. Tark offered me one of my first jobs. I was head coach in Hawaii for six games and coached against Tark. I didn't know what an X or an O was. I was 22 or 23 at the time. I love Tark ever since. I love him because I watch him in Final Fours.
I've been in his company over a hundred times. There can be a freshman ladies coach come up and say, Jerry, I really like your pressure defense. Well, sit down and let me tell you about it. An hour later, he's still with that lady. He's a very unique man.
If he is in, I'm more excited than if I was to get in. I'm equally excited, if it is true. I had the two greatest years of my life for two reasons: one, working under what I called one of the greatest experiences of my life in working for Hubie Brown, and the second thing, one of the greatest experiences of my life, watching a young man going on a run like I've never seen before and getting a chance to work with him and that's Bernard King. They don't tell you these thing, believe it or not. They do not.
Q. Can you relate at all to what it must mean to Michigan being back at this point after sanctions, et cetera.
COACH PITINO: It's great. Michigan is an unbelievable school. Great academic institution. Great tradition. I happen to have a little contact with them. To be a Michigan man, it means a lot to them. They could have no greater leader than John Beilein. He's what college basketball is all about.
This has been a journey for me that's built on this NCAA tournament with respect of the people that we prepare for.
I know John really well. But the other guys from Cy, with North Carolina A&T, I thought he got more out of his talent than I've seen most teams get. I said this last night, Larry Eustachy put together a team at Colorado State that was unbelievable. Never coached against Dana Altman, and I hope, and I really mean this, I hope I never coach against them again. Then, of course, last night was as good as it gets.
We have a profession. I know we've had some tough moments lately. But the other extreme, the majority of what you're seeing is just incredible. The teaching that's going on in unbelievable, like no time I've ever seen.
Q. The great philosopher Charles Barkley has gotten on the AAU system quite a bit. You've had the advantage of seeing this for a long time. You just complimented your kids' unselfishness because it seemed to be out of the norm. Do you think that the AAU system needs to be tweaked? Is it turning out great kids, kids you have to break down?
COACH PITINO: The AAU system, I've seen some really, really great coaches who care about their kids, really do it for the right reasons. Then I see some AAU programs that are totally tied into the shoe companies, being run by them, and you see some bad things that are happening.
There's good and there's bad, like in all parts of society. Charles is right with that.
I've also seen some great AAU programs that the kids leave, they don't make it in basketball, and they're still there for the families and helping them in many ways. Then I see the flipside where I see the shoe companies heavily involved in the programs, directing players, things of that nature. That's the bad part of it.
I'm not sure of the solution of it. You've seen runners who are running AAU programs. I'm not sure I know how to clean it up. Don't have the answer for it. Like a lot of people get on these tangents about the players aren't getting paid. I don't know, my teammates, Julius Erving, Al Skinner, we got paid.
I just know myself, I'm finishing up over a quarter of a million of dollars at Georgetown and Notre Dame with my children. We get paid as athletes, room, board, books and tuition. That is a lot of money for all of you that have taken out loans that you may still be paying today. We are being paid.
You can write about it all you want. I made one suggestion. I think all the families for the NCAA tournament should be flown in, have their hotels paid for. That's the least we can do to see their children play because it's a great expense to them with the flights today.
But I don't know what the solution is because of all the other sports that are non‑revenue, because how do you pay BU hockey and not BU basketball, you know?
Q. With Mitch McGary, what makes him so good right now? Put your NBA hat on. What skill sets does he have that will translate on the next level?
COACH PITINO: I make the analogy of David Lee. He reminds me of David Lee. Big‑time athlete, David was. David really improved his shooting. Couldn't shoot a lick. He was shooting air balls from the foul line in college. Great runner. Very active. Now he's become a great passer. Tremendous outlet guy. Great basketball player.
Everybody sort of talks about Trey Burke. He has really gotten better to the point where he's one of the premiere guys in the country right now. He's always been hard‑nosed and tough.
Q. I'm wondering if Jersey Red would still call you the exorcist or has time mellowed you and have you found some perspective as your career has gone on here?
COACH PITINO: Well, I haven't spoken to Jersey in over 10 years. Like I've said many times. I understand this game. The Boston Celtics helped me understand it mentally, physically, what it's all about. It's all about the guys to my left. There's no secret potions here.
I was taught a long time ago about why you win and why you lose from a good buddy named Dick McGuire from the New York Knicks. He told me great players play in the middle of the floor, where the window is open, you can see their options. Inferior players play to the sideline and the baseline.
He kept repeating to me my first year with the Knicks, Stop winning, you're going to get fired, stop winning. I just laughed at Dick. I'll never forget it as long as I live because our locker room, when we were rolling on the ground playing the Indiana Pacers, going to the playoffs the first year, management, Dick, the scouts, it was like a funeral because we were going to play the Celtics in the next round and they knew we were going to lose out on a pick.
So Dick was a man of few words. We spent an awful lot of time. They were my two pals, Fuzzy Levane and Dick McGuire, they gave me about as much wisdom as I could possibly get as a basketball coach.
Q. We've seen star players step up and make runs. Here Tim Henderson, Luke Hancock, Michigan, their backup guards hit four threes in the first half, what does it say about this Final Four and this matchup that maybe the star players are taking a backseat so far?
COACH PITINO: I think we're all trying to stop the great players defensively, choreograph our defensive plan to stop the great players.
I remember on the march in '87 to the Final Four, we had to play Georgetown, and the MVP of that region was our seventh man Darryl Wright, because we knew they would take Billy Donovan and Delray Brooks out of the game. We had to have Steve Wright and Darryl Wright rise to the occasion, and Darryl Wright, the seventh man, was the MVP of the region.
It just works that way because coaches choreograph the region. If you're playing against the Miami Heat, not that you can't stop LeBron, but your mentality is going to be to try to stop LeBron, stop D Wade, to stop Bosh, then Chalmers has a great night, somebody else steps up and has a great night. It's just what you try to do defensively.
Those guys, not that you don't pay attention to them, but your strategy is not toward them.
Q. Last weekend you used the word 'humility' a couple times, once in reference to your Boston days, and also about your team's mindset this year needing to stay humble. No offense, but as a younger man, when you were with UK, is that a word that would have sprung to mind?
COACH PITINO: No, it took a long time to gain humility. If I had one regret in life, it wouldn't be what you think, it's that I wasn't more humble at an earlier age. And I preach to any young coach that comes along. I tell my son all the time, Don't make the same mistakes when I was your age.
He said, Do you press too much?
I said, No, wasn't humble enough. I didn't realize why we won enough. You got to learn some when you go to Minnesota, it's not about coaching against Tom Izzo, it's not against coaching against all the great ones in that conference, it's about getting players that play at Indiana, play at Ohio State, play at Wisconsin. That's what it's about.
I've never scored a bucket in my life at the collegiate level as a basketball coach. As a pro coach, when you fail with the Celtics, suddenly the full court press didn't get you over the hump, the three‑point shot, the motion didn't get you over the hump. You truly realize why you win and why you lose.
That's why my all time favorite, because I read a lot, read books constantly. Every page of anything you read about John Wooden is just like a manuscript for any young coach how to carry himself and how to live your life. That man was truly one of the most incredible people we've had on this earth.
Q. You mentioned that you had some contact with Michigan. Can you take us through that decision‑making process from 2001. Is it a little bit ironic you're facing them tomorrow night for a chance to win another title?
COACH PITINO: It was kind of a funny story because I agreed to be the Michigan coach. I lived in Boston right on Com Avenue. We visited Las Vegas. I love Las Vegas. My wife doesn't like Las Vegas. We had young children at the time. She said, Look, if we were all 'let's go,' we have young kids. I just don't want to go out west. I don't want to go to a different time zone. I want to stay near our family.
It wasn't Las Vegas as a town, it was the fact that it was west of the Mississippi.
I'll go to any job, but want to stay closer to home.
So I took the Michigan job. That morning I agreed. I forget what the name was, I think it was 'Outright,' which when I called the Michigan AD, he didn't want me to use my real name to get through to him. My wife came up and, as I said, I'm on the third floor, putting together all the things together with the Michigan contract.
She had a book. There was an expression in the book that, I'd rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a Lamb. My wife doesn't swear. She didn't want to go to Michigan because I've never visited there, I didn't know anybody there. She wanted to go back to Kentucky where she saw the family so happy for eight years.
I said to her, You don't understand, the Kentucky coach can't coach at Louisville. You're just not getting it. She said, It's one game every year, and every other year you have to visit. What's the big deal?
I said, It's a big deal. We don't want to do that. We'll be miserable. You don't want to put yourself in that situation.
She said, You know what, that line you're always using, I'd rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a lamb, you're an F‑ing Lamb, then walked downstair.
I said, Think about it. There's half a million Kentucky fans in our town. It's not like living in Lexington where if you wear red, you get shot. It doesn't work that way.
She said, I don't care, your family is going to be happy. Now I have to call the AD. It's 12:00. He had a thing between 12:00 and 1:30. I think it was squash or racquetball, where he can never be disturbed unless it's a matter of life and death. His assistant said, Is it a matter of life and death?
I said, No, it's really, really important. It's a matter of life and death, because I changed my mind.
I'm sorry, I can't put him through to you, do you want his voice mail?
So now I'm leaving this long voice mail. I rambled on saying it's one of the greatest jobs in the world, but I have to go back home where my family grew up, my children grew up. I gave a long‑winded story. Never till the NIT when I got a chance to speak to him in person about it. I went to Louisville. It was the right move not necessarily for me. But it was the right move for my family.
Q. You've had tremendous success for a long period of time. You've also had periods when you've been knocked down. How have you been able to get through the harder times the last few years?
COACH PITINO: I think I really have to believe in your faith. The thing about adversity, you know, for me losing a child to 9/11, I don't care what I face, I can fight it. I'm still not over losing a child and I'm still not over 9/11. I still to this day think about those guys all the time. I wanted to watch Zero Dark Thirty. It meant a lot to me. My children said, Skip the first five minutes, watch it, you'll enjoy it. And I did.
That moment when that happened, at the end was really crucial to me.
I can face anything. That, I had a very difficult time facing. Still to this day for most of us from New York have a very difficult time with that.
Q. You said last night if you had Michigan, you had a whole lot to prepare for. When did the preparation for Michigan start and where did you start?
COACH PITINO: Well, I thought it started at halftime. But then at the end, it went back.
We didn't have to prepare for Syracuse. We've played them three times. We knew them. We knew they were going to play zone.
Michigan, one day of prep, is very difficult to prepare for. We play both man and zone. We press. You have to go over the press offense, the zone offense which changes to man. They have so many different counters to their plays. They execute.
But a lot of offensive things that they execute, we do on offense. Roll and replaces, high pick'n rolls. They shoot the ball better than we to, but some of their offensive schemes we do. It won't be easy, but we'll be used to it a little bit more.
Q. A lot has been made about John's journey to get to this point through his career. Do you think young coaches today are patient enough to do that? Do you think athletic directors value that experience the way they should?
COACH PITINO: The young coaches are much better than I was at their age. I was always looking to move up that ladder and overly ambitious. Guys like Brad Davis [sic], Shaka Smart, Gregg Marshall, they stay put. They're so bright and so smart by doing that because they understand. You know, when you win, so many opportunities chase after you as if it's part of your shadow. When you put yourself in a losing situation, everything goes away.
Pat Riley said it in such a profound way about the NBA. There's winning and misery and nothing in between. It's really true.
So when you're part of a Wichita State and a Virginia Commonwealth, a Butler, you're winning. When you make the money that they make, it's not the money some other guys make, money is irrelevant when you have it, it's totally relevant when you don't have it.
So those guys are much smarter than us as older coaches because they understand the value of winning, the value of programs.
We have the classiest young coaches that I've seen come along. There's nothing like these guys. They're incredible coaches, more important, they're incredible people. Brad Davis comes out. He comes out, leaves his team to come out to congratulate me when we win a game in the bracket we were in. The class they exude, the loyalty they exude, our game is in great shape, better shape.
Now, we have to change the way we play the game a little bit, and that comes with the rules committee.
Q. You spoke earlier about some of the more unheralded bench players, the role they play in the Final Four. Back on the stars. Looking at tomorrow's game, do you see it as a potentially very high wattage, star‑studded affair?
COACH PITINO: I think you got a lot of great players on that court. You don't know which ones are going to step up. I tried to tell Russ in the Duke game, They trapped you in the Bahamas, they're going to do everything possible to stop you.
I said, With us, we had to get Kelly out of that game somehow, so we kept running at Kelly trying to get him out of the game.
So you don't know what the coaches are thinking in terms of who to stop. They are really a great basketball team because of their movement, their shooting, their passing, their unselfishness.
A lot of teams when you watch them, you get nervous a little bit because they do so many things well. You have fun watching Michigan play basketball. The way they pass, cut, shoot, it's a John Beilein team. They're fun to watch. As a coach going to play them, I really enjoy watching them on film.
I'm saying Brad Davis, it's Brad Stevens. I say for my own player Luke Whitehead for Luke Hancock. I know what you're thinking: I'm like Boeheim, he should go.
Q. Gorgui, Peyton and Russ were asked a question about how last year's experience in a Final Four has prepared them for tomorrow night's game. Could you expand upon that.
COACH PITINO: You know, I really don't think it does personally. I think what it does, when you get on that stage of a dome, playing in front of 75,000, 80,000 people, it helps to experience that.
What I think is more important to me personally in preparing a team is the conference tournament. Those three or four games that you play where you have no time like now to prepare, and your players have to really get ready in a short period of time, I think that's invaluable than being on this stage.
I think they know what to expect from what you have to do to prepare, the time restraints. But it's really not an advantage at all. We didn't have unfinished business last year. We got beat by one of the great teams in the country in Kentucky. We came close, fought them hard, got beat. Did that prepare us?
I think it's like when you go to a really great restaurant, you can't afford it in your younger days of coaching. You'd like to get back to that restaurant. You wait for your anniversary to get back. It's the same way here. You taste the Final Four, you love that run, you'll do anything to get back to it. That's what our guys did this year. I think that's where the experience helped.
Q. You were talking about the demise of the Big East. It made me think of next year. I'm sure you haven't given any thought to it, but can you give us a few seconds on being in with Roy, CoachK, Larranaga, all that?
COACH PITINO: The reason I don't think about it is because I have been for 30 years preaching, I've read my pro teams by Spencer Johnson, the cute little book called The Precious Present, telling my pro guys, don't look at the second contract, stop worrying about the second contract your agents are drilling into your head. Enjoy being a rookie. Enjoy these times.
The Precious Present is all about being here right now talking to you, enjoying my hour with you, enjoying my hour and a half of practice. I think that's what life is really about: enjoying your family, the fact they're traveling with you. I'd be the biggest hypocrite in the world because I read that book every year to every college and pro team I've coached.
I tell these guys all the time, Gorgui probably won't be back, I said, Son, enjoy this, this is incredible. Peyton, Siva, I've had one of the greatest gifts of all time for having Peyton Siva for four years. I've enjoyed every minute of every hour of every day.
So I never think about that.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Mitch McGary, and what role will age and experience play as Gorgui tries to neutralize what he does tomorrow?
COACH PITINO: Well, how old is Mitch?
COACH PITINO: So Gorgui is 37. He's got 16 years on him, so it means a lot (laughter).
No, on paper you would say this is a young basketball team. But because he's done such a great job molding this team, they play like seniors. You don't see guys pass, catch and shoot like that. This is a remarkable team the way they share, the way they pass. They don't play like a young basketball team.
Mitch McGary in the beginning of the year was a good player who had really good potential. Now he's a great player, one of the premiere big guys in our country. So he's not a freshman, doesn't play like a freshman. Nobody on their team does.
So we've had an incredible run. I think yesterday, I'm pretty sure Kenny told me this, was the most wins in the history of one of the greatest traditions in the history of college basketball. We've had a great run. Now we're playing for a championship.
But I don't think any of that will matter, the fact that we're on such a great run. It takes a well‑seasoned, tough‑as‑nails mentally basketball team to beat a Wichita State team that outplayed us last night. So two great teams playing for the national championship, a lot of fun, and we're certainly going to enjoy it.
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank Coach Pitino for being so generous with his time today.
COACH PITINO: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports