One-on-One with U of L coach Rick Pitino

Rick Pitino

University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino will be in Omaha, Neb., on Monday to watch the Cardinals' baseball team in the College World Series. Before leaving on Monday morning, Pitino spoke with Cardinal Authority for a one-on-one interview talking about all things U of L basketball.

Cardinal Authority: We have heard good things from the early workouts you guys have been conducting, what has your take been?

Pitino: "One thing I've learned with summer workouts – individual instruction – is the guys who are in the best shape look the best. They might not necessarily be the best players but they look the best. Guys like Montrezl (Harrell), Russ (Smith) and Chris Jones are in great physical shape, so they look much better than everybody else. Summer workouts can be tricky that way in that certain guys will look better. You have to understand that going in but then some guys just have – like the young man Terry Rozier – unbelievable competitiveness. Chris Jones and Terry Rozier are fierce that just don't want to lose."

Cardinal Authority: You said last week the individual instruction on Thursday was the best in 12 years. What made it so good?

Pitino: "What makes a great individual (instruction) is how hard they compete offensively and defensively and they really did."

Cardinal Authority: Montrezl Harrell has been drawing rave reviews from USA Basketball tryouts. What has he improved on?

Pitino: "Montrezl, like Mangok (Mathiang), they both have to grow from great athletes to great basketball player. That's the type of development that's still needed. Montrezl is another fierce competitor and that's why he has looked so good. But he has improved his jump shot and he's working hard at it. Now, his next step is his footwork, jab series and his low-post game. He's a great athlete, he has to keep taking steps forward to be a great basketball player."

Cardinal Authority: You mentioned last week on Terry Meiners (WHAS-840 interview) that Montezl would likely start at the 5?

Pitino: "The only position this year for us will be the three. It will be different other than the three. The 1 and 2 will be the same and the 4 and 5 will be the same. So the three will be the only set position."

Cardinal Authority: Have you had many teams like that?

Pitino: "We've had a lot of teams like that. We'll be smaller at the guard spot. It will be a battle between Chris, Russ and Rozier. They will all play and it really doesn't matter who starts because they'll all play. Right now, I would say we would start Montrezl and Chane, but Chane has to get himself in better shape. He never looks great (this time of the year). Almost every individual, he gets injured half way through and that's what happens when you are not in great shape."

Cardinal Authority: Last year, you didn't like how Chane worked in the offseason. Have you seen a difference in him this year?

Pitino: "Both Chane and Wayne (Blackshear) have to become better ball handlers and better shooters. The only way they're going to do that is a lot of work. Remember, Peyton (Siva) put a lot of time to go from ‘C' shooter to ‘C-plus.' It took him a lot of time to get there. Wayne is putting in the time right now, both of those guys are working hard to get better."

Cardinal Authority: Is Russ (Smith) starting to become the leader that you hoped he would be when he decided to come back?

Pitino: "Russ is a different type of leader. Russ competes and the great thing about it, we have three fierce competitors (at guard spot) and they take a lot of pride in their abilities. It's something that will be fun because if you don't bring it all of the time, they will embarrass you. When Dylan (Avare) and David (Levitch) are on the court, you might think, ‘OK they're going to take it easy on them because their walk-on.' But it's just the opposite. They go for blood. Those three don't let up."

Cardinal Authority: What is Russ working on in the offseason, how can he get better on the floor next season?

Pitino: "We're not going to change anything with Russ' game because that's what makes him so good. But he can't turn it over as much and has to have better shot selection. And he's really working on that. He is still going to score but he has to cut down the turnovers and get his assist numbers up. He's working on a consistent jump shot where every shot looks the same, the same arc, and just doing everything (the NBA scout) want to see he can do. Look, Russ has gone from an erratic freshman to an inconsistent but good sophomore, to a great junior year and now he just has to put it all together for his senior year. The nice thing about it for Russ is that he has help (at guard)."

Cardinal Authority: So, you have been impressed by the newcomers so far? Anton Gill is the other guard will he see some action?

Pitino: "One thing you never know, you can always judge and evaluate talent but you never now how competitive they are and that's one thing that separates the good from the great. You've heard the saying, good is the enemy of great. And one thing that always separates (the newcomers) is how competitive and how willing they are to pay the price early on. I'm very encouraged. Chris Jones, Anton Gill and Terry Rozier are willing to pay the price. They come into individuals looking good and ready to compete. Other guys need a freshman year and need to be able to let their bodies develop, but that's not the case with those three."

Cardinal Authority: Will Chris and Terry both play a role at the point guard position?

Pitino: "Again, we're not as much into numbers as we have been in the past. We are just going to go out there and play. Peyton and Russ were both ones. Russ would score more points and Peyton had more of a passing mentality. These guys can all score."

Cardinal Authority: What about the other freshman, Akoy Agau?

Pitino: Akoy is very skilled but just in bad condition."

Cardinal Authority: Stephan Van Treese is good to have back with his experience, has he become a leader?

Pitino: "He's what we need. He's a veteran winner.

Cardinal Authority: Tim Henderson was on crutches recently. When do you expect him to be back?

Pitino: "He had (minor foot) surgery and will be back in two weeks."

Cardinal Authority: Going into the American Conference for one year, and then the ACC, but I would imagine the non-conference schedule is still going to be tough – as always – for you guys?

Pitino: "Our schedule is always going to be in the top 10 and this year is no exception. The conference we'll be playing in for one year has four teams that will be in the top 20. And then we'll play Kentucky and North Carolina. It's going to be challenging again for us."

Cardinal Authority: You will be in Omaha for the College World Series. It's been a magical year for the University of Louisville with the athletic achievements and the academic achievements as well. Your thoughts as the year winds down on what has happened this year at U of L.

Pitino: "At this university you have a true team. Every single sport pulls for each other and they all realize how hard you have to work to accomplish what you set out for. Jeff (Walz) and I vacationed together with other members of the staff, we're pulling hard for football and baseball and everybody is into academic excellence and athletic excellence. It's a very unique environment. You have a lot of support and I always say this is a blue-collard university. There's no arrogance at all, there's not even a taste of jealousy among any departments.

Cardinal Authority: Tom (Jurich) said last week, and he used basketball as an example, there's still room for improvement heading into the ACC.

Pitino: "We've had back-to-back Big East championships in three out of five years and the one thing about success – once you have it you get real hungry to do it again. We want to keep sustaining the excellence. And that's what everybody is trying to do, work hard to sustain the excellence. With Louisville basketball, we've been one of the leaders in college basketball for 30 years and I don't think we're going to ever sneak up on anybody. We're not that type of program. But we're never going to embrace (the success), we're always going to keep working hard to get better."

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