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Richard Pitino says he'd like to play his father again, just not in NCAAs

Richard Pitino sat anxiously at a U.S. Bank Stadium club room on Selection Sunday this March knowing the Gophers would be picked, but he didn't want to possibly play Louisville in a second-round matchup as some predicted.

"I hope they wouldn't do that," Pitino said then.

Louisville got announced first going to Indianapolis as a No. 2 seed. No mention of Minnesota until the No. 5 seed in Milwaukee. Sigh of relief for the Pitinos. They avoided that awkward feeling like in 2014 when no matter what, father or son had to lose. 

Standing in the U.S. coast guard hangar in Puerto Rico three years ago, Rick Pitino looked uneasy after his Louisville men’s basketball team’s 81-68 opening win in the Armed Forces Classic on national TV.

The Cardinals played like a top-10 team should against a non-ranked opponent. They dominated physically, and basically ran away with a game that was no way as close as the final margin.

So why was Rick Pitino so uncomfortable? Well, you probably can guess why.

 “I really didn’t want to play this game,” he said afterward. “I hate the fact that we won. … So, for all the exposure, it was great until the end of the game. I'd rather have not played it because my son lost.”

Fast forward to this week, ESPN.com’s Myron Medcalf wrote about matchups college hoops needs right now, mentioning his wanting to see a Pitino vs. Pitino rematch like the rest of us. I tweeted it wouldn’t happen again, because they don’t want to play. Want evidence? How about the awkwardness when they were almost put in that position last season as the first father and son to make the same NCAAs.

But Richard Pitino’s responses to me on Twitter Wednesday make it seem like he's not dreading that Louisville game completely.

I've been told that Louisville and Minnesota have been trying to figure out when to play the past few years, but schedules haven't aligned. Could we have some help Basketball Gods?! 

How perfect would it be for the Gophers to meet the Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium next November as that still-unannounced warmup game for the 2019 Final Four in Minneapolis? If father and son still want to play each other, then why not in a 60,000-seat stadium?

Gophers' Washington listed as one of Big Ten's top freshman

Richard Pitino returns nearly everyone from a 24-win NCAA tournament team, including several players who received All-Big Ten honors.

But freshman Isaiah Washington is arguably the most talked about player for the fifth-year Gophers men’s basketball coach – and he hasn’t even made his debut yet.

The 6-foot-1, 160-pound throwback New York City point guard has as much hype surrounding him as any newcomer in the Big Ten. And several preseason lists have already tabbed Washington as one of the top incoming freshmen in the conference. 

“He had a really, really good summer,” Pitino said. “That’s one step. That’s a small step, so we’ll see where it goes from here.”

Most recently, Scout.com rated Washington No. 2 among Big Ten freshmen expected to make an impact. The only player ahead of him was Michigan State’s 6-foot-11 big man Jaren Jackson Jr., who was a top-10 player in the Class of 2017.

In Street & Smith’s college basketball preview magazine, Washington was on the five-member all-newcomer team that included Jackson, Michigan’s Jaaron Simmons (Ohio transfer), Maryland’s Darryl Morsell and Illinois’ Mark Alstork (Wright State transfer).

In Lindy’s Sports magazine, veteran recruiting analyst Frank Burlison seemed enamored with Washington, who he ranked as the 19th best incoming freshman in the country and second best in the Big Ten. Burlison called Washington the best playmaker/passer of all the incoming Big Ten recruits, and “the best point guard not to be selected in the McDonald’s All-American game.”

Burlison’s prediction that Washington “might lead the Big Ten in assists before long” doesn't seem that far-fetched. Although that might not happen this season playing with All-Big Ten point guard Nate Mason, who averaged five assists last season. But it could come to fruition as early as Washington's sophomore year.

Lindy’s 2017 recruiting class rankings listed Minnesota as 17th nationally, because of Washington and New Jersey guard Jamir Harris, one of the top shooters in the class. Burlison said Washington and Harris would’ve been the type of East coast backcourt in the 1980s and 1990s that could help a Big East team compete for a conference title and make an NCAA tournament run. That’s the heaviest praise I’ve seen for the future Gophers backcourt.

Social media can never have enough of Washington's "Jelly Fam" brand and different versions of their trademark layups. So ESPN’s Sportscenter Twitter feed picked up a video of the New York Mr. Basketball standout dribbling, spinning and twisting for a jelly finger roll last week during a workout at the Bierman practice court on the U campus. And, of course, it went viral with more than 17,000 favorites.

“He loves to play,” Pitino said. “Sometimes when you see all that media stuff, you think maybe he’s not and about some other things. But he’s really not. He lives in the gym. He just loves ball and loves to compete.”

-- Sophomore power forward Eric Curry, who suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this month, was having surgery to repair a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus Wednesday morning. 

   

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