Gophers coach Richard Pitino added a label beyond “the young guy” among his peers Monday when the Big Ten’s basketball coaches selected him as Coach of the Year.
“It’s always nice to be recognized for something,” Pitino said Wednesday. “I’m not going to play it off like it’s not.”
“No offense to you guys,” he told the media, “but when the coaches recognize you, that mean’s something, just because I’m the young guy in the conference and I’ve been that. So I appreciate that.”
Pitino, 34, said the award and the team’s accolades have been a welcome affirmation after the disappointment his 8-23 team experienced last season. He also spoke of what the award could mean going forward.
“It can’t hurt [with recruiting], especially for me because I’m so young,” he said. “I haven’t had a whole lot to talk about, just because I haven’t been doing it a long time. So every little thing you can do personally that can build your brand, can certainly help recruiting.”
Other Gophers honored Monday were junior guard Nate Mason (All-Big Ten first team), junior center Reggie Lynch (Defensive Player of the Year), guard Amir Coffey (All-Freshman team) and Jordan Murphy (All-Big Ten third team).
Mason said the team was called to campus, watched the awards show and celebrated together.
“It was just great to see the reaction of my teammates when I got it,” he said, “and see the reaction on their face when they got their awards.
“It means a lot to just know we have a great coach on our hands, all the trust we have in him, and just being able to overcome everything.”
After those honors, Pitino quickly turned the focus back to the Gophers’ preparation for the Big Ten tournament. The Gophers (23-8, 11-7) earned a double bye and play Friday (1:30 p.m., ESPN) in the quarterfinals.
The Gophers lost their regular-season finale Sunday to Wisconsin, stopping an eight-game winning streak. Pitino has spent the past few days reminding his players of all they accomplished while challenging them to be better.
“We had a really tough practice [Tuesday],” he said. “Kind of a preseason-type practice [the players] were not happy about, just to get them a little tougher and break them through a little more. Condition them.”
“I think young people tend to lose confidence, so obviously I have to get them back to understanding we went a month without losing in the Big Ten. So as much as I didn’t like the way we played in that second half [against Wisconsin], and it would have been great to be second in the conference, we have to take a deep breath and realize all the great things we did and get excited about the position we’ve put ourselves in.”