THE COLUMN: The thing that struck me about this media day was how many of them I’ve been to where faster-paced play was promised, but never materialized or wasn’t sustained. I explore why that has been the case, and whether this time will be different for U of L. Read it here.
THE COACH: Pitino, for all the negative news coming out of the program, is not how you might think, just from all the coverage. He’s relaxed and enthusiastic. I thought one of the more telling quotes when he was on the podium was this one.
“I’ve always had energy. I’ve been through a tough 18 months, there’s no question about it. And now it’s over. I had to do the right thing in a lot of places. I’m also much more tolerant of certain things.”
He then proceeded on a rant on parenting and how kids haven’t changed but society and parents have, which I’ll spare you. But that little peek, that it’s been a tough year and a half, and he’s come out of it a little bit different, was something that I picked up on.
Later, I spent the last 45 mintues or so of the full scrimmage sitting with Pitino, along with the C-J’s U of L beat writer C.L. Brown. And Howie Lindsey was nearby. So my following take on the scrimmage will kind of weave what I saw and some of Pitino’s toughts.
THE SCRIMMAGE: You’ll see in my column that Peyton Siva said Pitino has been a little different this season. He’s not quite so quick on the trigger when mistakes are made on the court. At one point, Siva said, Preston Knowles took a three and missed and Pitino immediately said to keep shooting it, keep getting that shot, “We want to get you 10 threes a game.” At which Siva said he thought, “Oh, man, coach, last year we couldn’t get five.”
So I was curious to see how the scrimmage proceeded. And I kind of wondered if much had changed in the early minutes, when Pitino stopped the action seven times in the first three minutes:
19:28: Gets on Siva to pass the ball to Mike Marra — “He’s wide open.”
19:23: Stops it to correct Terrence Jennings on a screen
18:14: Gets on Elisha Justice for dribbling too much. “You have it too long. You got anybody open? (Answer from Justice, “No.”) Are you fast? (Answer: “No.”) Then pass and go create.”
17:41: Stops play because of a bad pass
17:23: Stops to tell George Goode where to stop running on his post up.
17:16: Stops because White Team took too long to pass midcourt.
After that, though, the game proceeded pretty much like a regular scrimmage, with no coaching stoppages.
The shot clocks are set at 24 seconds, and Pitino did hold to his rule of no more than 3-4 seconds getting the ball past midcourt.
At one point, assistant Steve Masiello got on freshman Elisha Justice for a mistake. Justice said, “My fault.” Masiello answered, “Stop saying my fault. I know it’s your fault.”
At halftime, the White team (Jackson, Kuric, Goode, Smith, Justice and Henderson) led the Red (Buckles, Marra, Jennings, Knowles and Siva) 67-59. I tweeted the score and former Cardinal Larry O’Bannon answered back, “lol film session gonna be ugly for that one tomorrow lol”
In the second half, Pitino wanders over and sits down. He’s impressed with Kuric, who seemed to have the most bounce of anybody until the last couple of minutes. And Kuric was the catalyst for the White win. He scored 40 points and had 8 assists, going 10 for 11 from the free-throw line despite playing 37 minutes in a frantic pace.
Rakeem Buckles made a pair of three-pointers in quick succession in the second half. “He’s really improved his outside shot,” Pitino said. “It’s the most noticeable thing he’s done.”
Pitino was disappointed that Stephen Van Treese sprained an ankle in practice before the scrimmage and likely will be out for Sunday’s first public scrimmage, to be played before a crowd of 22,000 at the KFC Yum! Center.
“That’s really disappointing, because Stephen was really running the floor for us,” he said. “He beats T.J. up and down the floor. He’s really working hard.”
Pitino asks us who we think will win. C.L. Brown picks the Red. White is leading and there’s 5:28 to play. I say if Kuric and Justice and keep getting to the line, I like them.
The White team reaches 101 points, but the $2 million overhead scoreboard at the Bucket clicks back to “1.” Pitino looks over at Kenny and yells, “I guess we should have got the $3 million scoreboard.”
George Goode hits another mid-range jumper, then fouls on the other end and Pitino yells, “George, you’re playing great, but you’re fouling so much that no one will ever see you.” Goode finishes the scrimmage with 39 points and 15 fouls.
Perhaps in part because they have only five players and no subs, the Red team can’t catch up. White surges ahead by 9, and Red mounts a mini-run. But can’t take the lead.
“In all my playing days, as hard as I worked, I could never do what these guys are doing,” Pitino said. “There’s five guys on that side, playing at this fast a pace, with no subs.”
I don’t know how Pitino’s U of L Final Four team came up, but I said something I have thought about looking back at that group, “The more I look back at it, the more I can’t believe that group got to the Final Four.”
“We had six and a half players,” Pitino said. “Otis had a broken foot.”
“And Juan Palacios was a freshman and expected to be a key guy inside,” I said.
“The thing that team had was that we could really shoot it at the 1, 2 and 3,” Pitino said. “If you can do that, it really makes it tough. And if you have somebody who can shoot it at the 4, then you can be really special.”
With three minutes left, the White team leads by 7 and Kuric is gassed. Pitino yells at Masiello to get him out.
“I’ll take Kyle out so it’ll be close,” Pitino said. “I’m going to give you a chance to be right, C.L. Or else your coaching career ends right here.”
But after Kuric leaves, Justice, who has had an off shooting game, buries three-point daggers on back-to-back possessions.
“You think Bozich will ever write a column saying he was wrong about the Bullet when he turns out to play great for us?” Pitino jokes. He’s given Bozich a hard time about Justice before. I can’t remember Bozich saying anything about Justice — except perhaps he’s not the type of recruit that U of L fans expect.
Still, when Klein brings over the final stat sheet after a 125-112 White team victory, Pitino goes to the assist column and asks Kenny if the number is legit. Justice has 10 assists, 0 turnovers.
Preston Knowles led the Red with 29 points, but had two technical fouls. Siva had 25, Jennings 24, Buckles 23. Chris Smith had 26 and Justice 13 for the White.
What’s to be made of it? Well, this early, who knows?
It’s going to be an uphill battle for this group when you look at the Big East talent. The question — as it was last season — is how good a shooting team this is going to be. Beyond that there’s the question of whether it will be able to sustain its fast tempo, and whether it will be able to develop any defense to go with it.
Siva, before the scrimmage, said that one difference in this year’s team is that nobody is quite so concerned with their own scoring. He didn’t reference Samuels or Sosa.
“It’s a good group of kids,” Pitino said.
The public will get to make its first evaluation of how good a team it could be on Sunday.