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.
"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
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.