Rick Pitino breaks down next year's UofL team

03/31/2014 11:17 AM

The Kentucky Wildcats unceremoniously ended Louisville’s season in the Sweet Sixteen, beating the Cards for the second time this year. But, head coach Rick Pitino was not disappointed with the ending Monday when he addressed the media.

“I was real pleased with this year,” Pitino said. “What you hope as a coach is that the players play up to their potential, and all of the guys did that all year. Took no one lightly and played their butts off every game.”

The future is bright. With six recruits coming in, the 2014 UofL recruiting class is currently ranked fourth by ESPN. But Pitino warned you never know what you will get as freshmen transition to the college game.

“You just don’t know how they will turn out. Some freshmen get it right away. Some don’t,” Pitino said. “The biggest thing will be for Chinanu [Onuaku] getting into shape. Quentin [Snyder] will have a big adjustment defensively, not offensively.”

Another new addition will be an assistant coach to replace Kevin Keatts, who is the next head coach of UNC-Wilmington. Pitino is in no rush to replace Keatts and said he wants to find the right fit.

“We are going to have a young team, so I want a good teacher. I have someone in mind, but I’m not sure I can talk him out of what he’s doing right now. I want to bring someone in who can really teach these big guys,” Pitino said. “Kevin Keatts impacted our team in a really good way. He went from a preps coach to one of the best assistants really quickly. I’m going to take my time and get the right guy [to replace him].”

The returning players will form the core of leaders to bring the freshmen up to speed.

“I think leadership will be by committee, depending on Montrezl Harrell,” Pitino said.” Montrezl leads by intimidation. He’ll be the natural one if he comes back. Wayne, Chris and Terry would be the next leaders.”

Pitino said a couple of players shined in practice but the media and fans did not get to see them play during games because veteran starters locked down that playing time.

“Anton Gill is a better basketball player than you’ve seen because he’s played behind Russ Smith and Terry Rozier,” Pitino said. “Akoy Agau has really great ability, but he was intimidated by Montrezl Harrell. He will blossom if Montrezl leaves.”

The key player that Pitino said needs to improve before next season is Wayne Blackshear. Pitino said he wants to see the now-senior guard/forward become a gym rat and look at the bigger picture.

“He joked that he’s on a one-day contact and doesn’t think about the future, but I told him he needs to get on a sixth month contact,” Pitino said. “We’ve got to get Wayne handling the ball. He’s got to be a bully guard. He’s got to bully you to the basket and get people to foul you.”

Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Stephan Van Treese and Tim Henderson definitively played their last game Friday as all four seniors graduate and move on, but sophomore Montrezl Harrell still has a big decision ahead of him. Should he stay for his junior year or leave early and declare for the NBA draft?

“I don’t influence my players in this area. I give them the information, make sure they save their money, and let them choose their agent. I never tell my players what to do. It’s their life,” Pitino said. “My advice to Montrezl is just relax. Enjoy the two years we’ve had here. If he goes into the 20’s, he’s going to be drafted by a good team and he won’t play as much. If you don’t play much, you don’t get the stats that get you a better second contract. If he’s drafted 10 to 17, it’s something he’s going to consider strongly.”

In addition to the four seniors, the Cards also lose Kevin Ware, who announced his intention to transfer over the weekend after Louisville’s loss. Pitino said the school would not limit Ware’s transfer options.

“Kevin is a big part of our family. He wants to be closer to home,” Pitino said. “He’s had a tough go with his leg. Finally, he’s 100 percent healthy. He wants to be closer to his mom and his sisters, who have gone through a hard time.”

Next year’s Louisville team will have six freshmen on the roster compared to just two seniors, and Pitino said there is just one way to bring them up to speed.

“Take a young team, put them on the road. Put them against good competition, and that will make them a great team at the end of the year,” Pitino said. “We don’t want to stop this run we are on. I don’t want it to stop.”

A Final Four, a national championship, and a Sweet Sixteen. Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals have had a great run, and next year holds a lot of potential.


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