One factor that Richard Pitino has noticed since he was named Gophers men’s basketball coach is how receptive people have been.
“They’ve really welcomed me with open arms,” he said.
“I’ll tell you this, I have lived in a bunch of different places in my life, and I can say, with all sincerity, the people of Minnesota are the most friendly people I have ever met.
“They have been so welcoming, from the alumni, the administration, high school coaches, AAU coaches. … They treat everybody with respect. Everywhere you go, people say the same thing about Minnesota and the Twin Cities, they say there are great people up there, and they are certainly proving that.”
Pitino knows that coming in late to the recruiting of the state’s top players for the class of 2014 is certainly a drawback, but he said that the only thing he asks of those players is that they listen.
“We’re coming into the game late, which is understandable, got a lot of ground to make up, but everyone has been great so far,” he said.
Pitino said that from a coaching standpoint he needs to hire one more assistant.
“Hopefully in the next couple of days, a week maybe, I should be able to get done with that,” he said. “I’m trying to take my time and make sure I get the right fit. My two other guys that I’ve hired [Ben Johnson and Kimani Young] are tremendous, and now I have to get another guy to balance them out. It’s very important to have great chemistry on the staff.”
Pitino has staged two workouts to date with the Gophers who are returning, so he was asked for his impression.
“It is a little hard to totally get a gauge on them with a couple of workouts, but the guys have been great,” he said. “They work really hard. Certainly Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, really good players. Then we have some nice pieces. It’ll be easier for me to kind of get a better gauge of it when we go 5-on-5.
“You can tell they’re very well-coached and there has been a great foundation laid.”
Pitino pointed out that speed and athleticism are very important to his style of play.
“I like guys who can play multiple positions,” he said. “I don’t like a guy who can just play the 1 [point guard], or just play the 3 [small forward]. I like guys who can play both spots. I need quickness, I need guys who can play in the press and turn offense from our defense. I would love to have great shooters, I think the three-point line is so important in our game. Then you have to have a great attitude. I think these guys can be team players.”
He added that it was that same cohesiveness that helped Louisville win the national championship this year for his father, Rick Pitino.
“I was very close with a lot of guys because I coached them last year and recruited a couple of those guys, we didn’t worry about rankings, we didn’t worry about hype, we just worried about getting the right fit for what we’re trying to do and they showed that this year,” Richard Pitino said.
Pitino said all of the players eligible for next season are staying with the Gophers and are not transferring, which is always a concern when a new coach is named.
The Gophers have three scholarships available.
“I’m looking at it this way: It’s late, so we have to get the right fit,” he said. “We can’t just give a scholarship away without thinking that the guy fits our system and is good enough to play in the Big Ten. If we don’t find that, we certainly won’t give it away. … We just have to do a lot of homework right now.”
Pitino was asked if there’s a chance the Gophers will play against his father’s Louisville squad next year.
“If they have an available date and we have an available date, then I’d certainly love to talk to him about it,” he said. “I think once all this recruiting slows down a little bit we will definitely talk about it, and if not this year, maybe next year.”
Pitino agrees with his predecessor, Tubby Smith, who described the AAU basketball program in Minnesota as one of the best.
“The thing I have been impressed with is how well-coached these high school programs and these AAU programs are. You don’t always see that,” Pitino said.
Twins rookie Aaron Hicks, who hit .370 in spring training, is now batting .059 on the season. Hicks has driven in four runs with his three hits this season — including the tying single in Sunday’s 5-3 victory over the White Sox — but he is not coming close to what was expected of him.
General Manager Terry Ryan still has hopes that the center fielder will snap out of his slump.
“We moved him down [the lineup] and we’re going to continue to monitor him and protect him, but it’s going to be pretty much up to him on how he’s going to respond,” Ryan said.
Ryan said he was happy with Hicks’ play in the outfield, but he added: “Now we have to get more quality offense out of him. I think [manager Ron Gardenhire] will protect him to a point, but ultimately we have to have a response because we just can’t have an out in that lineup.”
• The Twins are 8-7. In 2012 they didn’t win their eighth game until May 8, at which point they were 8-21 and nine games out of first place.
• Twins prospect Kyle Gibson, who is coming back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, gave up three runs with four strikeouts in five innings for Class AAA Rochester on Sunday. Gibson is now 0-3 with a 4.43 ERA.
• A.J. Barker, who was the leading receiver for Gophers football last year and then decided to leave the team, is back in school at Minnesota, but there doesn’t seem to be any chance he will play football.
• In a testament to the great appreciation Gophers football coach Jerry Kill has for his players, Peter Westerhaus was the state’s Mr. Football out of Holy Family in 2010, but at present he is at the Mayo Clinic with a debilitating illness and isn’t likely to play football again. But Kill was there in Rochester this week, taking time out during spring practice to visit Westerhaus.
• Tyus Jones and Reid Travis competed for the Howard Pulley Panthers at the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League this weekend in California. The Panthers went 1-3 overall. Jones averaged 20 points on 56.6 percent shooting, with eight assists, three rebounds and 2.5 steals per game in the tournament. In the final game of the session Sunday, Jones scored 38 points on 14-for-22 shooting. Reid averaged 16 points on 42.3 percent shooting, with 9.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org