This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

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The new coach: Richard Pitino on up-tempo style, plus player reaction from his hiring

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under Gophers coaches Updated: April 5, 2013 - 1:00 PM


Details of Pitino's contract from Michael Rand can be found here.

A few other notes from today’s press conference and player access afterward:

  • One of the more interesting things that athletic director Norwood Teague said was that “Richard [Pitino] was always on my list.” That conflicts with the AP report, which says Florida coach Billy Donovan recommended Pitino after Teague called him earlier this week to ask for *a* suggestion. Teague wouldn’t comment much about the search – or Flip Saunders in general – but did sarcastically note that “I made offers to a lot of candidates I didn’t know I met with,” referring to various media reports.
  • Pitino brought up his playing style right away in his opening statement, describing the up-tempo style that his team played at FIU and that he intended to bring to Minnesota. “We’re going to do lots of pressing,” he said. He also noted that it would be an adjustment for current players, as it was an entirely new system. Former coach Tubby Smith, of course, had been talking about / recruiting with the words “up-tempo style” quick off his lips, but the reality is, we really haven’t seen it. Last year, the Gophers were ranked 278th in the nation in adjusted tempo according to Kenpom.com, while FIU ranked at No. 48.
  • Playing that type of style in the Big Ten, of course, is a little more difficult than doing so in, say, the Sun Belt Conference, where Pitino is coming from. But the coach remained confident that the team would be able to do so effectively, using the word “aggressive” often in describing his style.
  • Pitino would not answer questions specifically on “The Big Three” of Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis from the 2014 recruiting class – that is technically an NCAA violation – but our Jason Gonzalez reported that he’s reached out to Travis and Vaughn (he likely reached out to Jones as well, but the Apple Valley star is not taking any interviews right now).
  • Regarding the three available scholarships for 2013, Pitino said he will only bring in new recruits if “it’s the right fit.” There’s a possibility he could just load up for 2014. He also wouldn’t specifically say whether he was going to go after Alvin Ellis, who decommitted on Wednesday, again immediately – only that he was going to look into the recruiting class as a whole. Ellis doesn’t necessarily fit the program’s greatest needs right now – a true point guard and big men – so if Pitino decides to go in a different direction, it would not surprise me.
  • Pitino, on his age: “I certainly embrace the fact that I’m young. I don’t try to hide from it.”
  • Before the press conference, Pitino met briefly with current players for about 15 minutes, he said. He plans to meet with them individually next week, he said, after he gets back from the Final Four.
  • Some have reported that Teague had restricted the staff that Saunders could hire – thus wearing down negotiations. Again, we still don’t know how much of that is true. But Teague made it clear that Pitino will be selecting his own staff. Pitino has not announced any of his selections yet, but as I reported yesterday, Kimani Young (from FIU) is expected to be among them.
  • Pitino expressed excitement about going up against his dad, Rick Pitino at Louisville, in recruiting players. “It’s game on,” he said. He also said if he wasn’t going up against his dad, he would love for him to be on his side.
  • FIU scheduled a game against Louisville – and Pitino's father – last season (they lost 79-55). Pitino didn’t rule out that scheduling Louisville could be an option in the near future with Minnesota as well. “That would be great,” Austin Hollins said. “I think that would be a lot of fun if that happens.”
  • Players sounded excited, not just about Pitino, his reputation and his style, but that the nerve-racking process was over. “It was weird,” Andre Hollins said. “It’s kind of like being at home and having your parents leave and then having a new set of parents come in. That’s kind of what it was like. Just waiting, we were at home, just sitting by ourselves.”
  • Andre Hollins said he spoke with a couple of players that have been associated with Pitino – Casey Prather at Florida and Chris Jones, who will be attending Louisville next season – and got “good reviews.”
  • Hollins said he went over to Tubby Smith’s house to talk to his former coach the day after he was fired. “It was definitely weird,” Hollins said. “I was shocked when I woke up in the morning. I was like ‘wow.’ It was one of those speechless moments. … I spoke to him and just told him how much I appreciated it, and we talked.”
  • Austin Hollins said players were mostly kept in the dark throughout the process because the administration was trying to prevent leaks (don’t I know it).
  • Austin echoed the other players in saying that he thinks Pitino’s age will be a strength, not a flaw. “I don’t think anyone is wary – if anything, it’s a benefit,” he said. “He’s someone that can relate to the players and he’s someone that will understand us, and it will be good for us.”
  • Austin on his nervousness during the search: “I was really nervous because there are a lot of coaches out there, and after playing under coach Smith for three years, and then having to make a transition – you want to make sure you get a guy in here that you’ll know you like, especially with one more year left. So, after finding out that it was coach Pitino, I think there was a lot of relief – everybody could sigh a little bit and get ready to work.”
  • Rodney Williams, who was there with the current team, said that he didn’t attend the college dunk contest last night because “I had to take care of some business here at home.”
  • Williams expects to be preparing for the draft soon, but for now is concentrating on school and spending time with his daughter before he goes off to train.
  • Williams said he was with Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman in their apartment, group messaging with the team when they found out about Pitino. Oto Osenieks brought it up, “and nobody believed him,” Williams said. “And 10 minutes later, it was all over the news.”
     

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