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.