Pitino stresses the positive to fans

Updated: October 9, 2009, 1:43 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Despite the chaos that engulfed his life over the summer and a preseason forecast full of low expectations, Louisville coach Rick Pitino is urging his team's supporters to focus on the positive.

Pitino used the team's annual tipoff luncheon Thursday to deliver a speech that might have fit just as well at a recent motivational seminar in Louisville when he shared the stage with speakers like Laura Bush and Rudy Giuliani.

The program's assembled supporters gave him a standing ovation when he was introduced. And while he didn't specifically mention the controversy that surrounded him this simmer, Pitino remained upbeat and pledged that a mix of humility and work ethic would help his team, which was depleted by NBA departures, surprise the experts.

[+] EnlargeRick Pitino
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireRick Pitino, seen during the 2009 NCAA tournament, is asking Louisville fans to keep a positive outlook as the team rebuilds.

"Don't succumb to being a critic," Pitino said. "Don't become part of that negative environment that just knocks and constantly says things that tear things down. Build things up. That's what positive people do."

While Pitino insists that he's having one of the best years of his life, from the outside looking in, things may not look so rosy.

There's the matter of a pending federal case against Karen Cunagin Sypher, who is charged with attempting to extort $10 million from him. Pitino, in August, admitted to and apologized for a sexual encounter with Sypher that happened six years ago.

On the court, the Cardinals have fallen short of the Final Four by a game in each of the previous two seasons. After last season, the team lost its best passers, rebounders and defenders, including Earl Clark and Terrence Williams -- both NBA lottery picks. The Cardinals have been picked to finish sixth in the Big East just a year after winning the regular season and conference titles.

The team begins practice in a week and that puts Pitino back where he's comfortable.

"I am totally focused right now, as I am every basketball season," he said.

With the low expectations, and holes to fill on the team, it's in those types of situations when overachievers act, Pitino said. A run deep into the NCAA tournament is possible again in the upcoming season, he added.

"How does our team duplicate what they did last year and maybe go a step further?" he said, seeming to talk to his players as much as the Cardinals faithful at the Louisville Marriott Downtown.

"They're a hungry group," he said. "They're very humble. By far, this is the closest group I've had here at the University of Louisville. It starts because our freshmen are so humble. It starts because our captains [seniors Jerry Smith and Edgar Sosa] are so willing to lead."

Pitino says all that will translate to success when their season starts against Arkansas on Nov. 17.

"Come first game of the season, we'll show our fans and show the country what we're all about," he said.

Pitino prescribed a combination of humility and improved work ethic for his players to succeed despite the losses to their roster.

Pitino introduced each of his players, handed out rings to commemorate last season's Big East championship, and gave the players a chance to speak to the crowd. Most kept it to a sentence or two and finished with, "Go Cards."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.