The game column is a delicate thing. Today, U of L beat writer C.L. Brown decided early on that his main game story needed to focus on how U of L bounced back from its blowout loss to Notre Dame, regardless of how it bounced back. One of the main prongs of that story was that Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, after that game, greeted his team the next day with a surprise. In place of their regular practice gear, they found plain T-shirts and shorts in the locker. It was a motivational tactic, of course, with many messages attached. I didn’t weigh in on that with my column. I steered clear of the topic C.L. explored, and wrote my own piece about Preston Knowles. Here, however, are my thoughts on Pitino’s ploy.
A day after the U of L basketball team was undressed at Notre Dame, players arrived to the locker room last Friday to find a Haynes commercial.
All that was missing was Cuba Gooding Jr. yelling, “Earl Clark! I’m wearing your underwear!”
Yes, Rick Pitino made a fashion statement. The coach confiscated their usual adidas practice gear for plain old unmarked T-shirts and shorts.
“We disgraced our own names and Louisville’s,” Preston Knowles said of the message.
“It showed us that in one day, you can go from somebody to nobody,” Samardo Samuels noted.
It’s not as dramatic as Bob Huggins moving his team out of its locker room, or Mike Kzryzewski moving Duke out of its gym, but Pitino got his point across.
U of L thrashed DePaul 99-54 on Sunday. And Pitino said that Saturday’s practice was the team’s best of the season. Good enough, in fact, to change his opinion of his team’s prospects.
Maybe clothes do make the man.
But that practice attire wasn’t the only change, according to sources who demanded not to be identified — or even believed.
That suit Pitino wore Sunday? Off the rack from J.C. Penney.*
Other changes the blowout wrought? Assistant coach Steve Masiello had to switch from wide pinstripes to thin. Team managers had to use duct tape instead of athletic tape. Sports information director Kenny Klein’s laptop was replaced with a Commodore 64. And executive assistant Vinny Tatum’s Cuban cigars were replaced with domestic.
The redecoration was total.
This kind of thing isn’t new. Jason Lewis, a former IU Hoosier, once told me coach Bob Knight kicked him out of practice and when he came back the next day, all his practice gear was gone. He wore his tennis shoes off the street and borrowed a T-shirt and shorts from teammate Jason Collier, who was 7 feet tall. Lewis was 6-1. Lewis said he looked and felt pretty ridiculous, but went out and practiced the next day, and the day after that. I don’t remember how many days it was, but finally he made a good play in practice and Knight said, “Dammit, give him his stuff back.”
Or something approximating that.
U of L’s players say it will take a road victory to earn back their old practice gear, which is a cagey move by Pitino, knowing the immense value of any road win from here on out.
But if the Cards keep playing with a renewed sense of purpose, some credit will have to go to those plain T-shirts. A functional wardrobe, indeed.
* Note: Out of concern for a libel suit, please note that Pitino’s suit was not off the rack from J.C. Penney. It was a joke. -Ed.