Richard Pitino's spring so far has been a juggling act to say the least.
The Gophers coach can’t meet with his basketball team in person. He can’t meet with prospects. He’s been in constant chats with his players and recruits by phone and online, while also watching movies and spending more quality time with his children at home.
In a Q&A with the Star Tribune recently, Pitino talked about how the coronavirus pandemic has changed his life right now as a coach and young father, expectations for his new recruits Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Martice Mitchell, what it means for Daniel Oturu declaring for the draft, potentially playing his father at Iona and more.
Q: How have you been dealing with staying home while managing responsibilities as a coach?
A: The best thing we can do as hard as it is is to stay home. My family that’s what we’re doing. We’re figuring out different ways to occupy the kids’ time. As well as making sure we’re educating them. Schools did such a good job. It was such an important part of their lives. You got to make sure they’re moving them forward to the best of your ability socially and emotionally as you can. We’re doing that and it’s been fun. It’s been fun to reconnect as a family. We’re doing a couple hours during the day with iPads away to watch a movie or going for a walk. We’re doing different things. It’s scary, but it’s good to reconnect with everybody.
Q: How challenging is it to keep track of your players away from school to be safe?
A: When we’re in college we all thought we were untouchable. What I try to do is educate our guys on is that when you get older life is a lot more fragile. We’ve got really good parents. We’re checking in with these guys daily. It seems they are all safe, staying home and doing the right things.
Q: How are you mostly communicating with your players and recruits?
A: We’re setting up some Zoom meetings [this week] with the players. They’re doing a lot of academic stuff through that. We’ve done FaceTime with recruits, which we always do anyway. Zoom and FaceTime with recruits. Those guys are used to communicating with that stuff. It’s not like the old days when you have to be near a computer. Just constant communicating is key. Our guys were killing it academically. They were doing so well. We had the highest GPA in team history in the fall. We have to continue to finish the year the right way, in an unconventional way.
Q: What did you talk to Daniel Oturu about before his decision to declare for the NBA Draft?
A: The biggest thing that we tried to discuss at the end of the year was that this process is evolving because our world is evolving. What’s the best thing for everybody? And, also just making sure academically he finishes out strong in the unique situation we have here with online stuff. So, that he can come back and graduate. Normally, what potential NBA guys do on spring break is they go to California or Las Vegas to go train. You don’t need to be doing any of that because it’s just not safe right now. But Daniel has been great with communication. I’m excited about the future for him.
Q: Can you find a big man this late in the recruiting process to make a big impact right away?
A: I think the timing of Daniel telling us [he’s leaving] now helps us in recruiting, but it’s also very, very difficult because you can’t go anywhere. I think recruits are going to see a need right away. They’re going to see if you’re good enough that we’re going to get you the ball in the right spots. The hard part is we don’t know what the transfer rule is. We don’t know that. It could easily change here soon, and guys transferring would be immediately eligible. We all have got to be patient.
Q: How will Jamal Mashburn Jr. fit into the backcourt mix with starters Marcus Carr, Gabe Kalscheur and Payton Willis?
A: I’m so excited about him. He’s similar to those three guys in the sense of he’s locked in on basketball. You watch him practice and you see him play, he’s a competitor. He doesn’t need to be promised anything. He doesn’t need to be told you’re going to play 30 minutes a game. He wants to go compete and play. That’s what I love about him. He’s going to come in and figure it out. He’s going to be put in the position like everybody else to succeed. He’s fearless. He can make shots. He’s got a little bit of Nate Mason in him where he can hit that mid-range jumper. I’m fired up about him. I like his versatility and I love his competitive spirit.
Q: Martice Mitchell has wing skills at 6-10. Do you think he can help inside as a freshman, too?
A: I think the biggest thing for Martice is the potential is off the charts. Whenever we do resume here getting him on campus, getting him in the cafeteria, getting him with our nutritionist and in the weight room is going to be so huge for him this summer. So, obviously we can’t get him here right away. But I talk to him and communicate with him that he needs to put on weight. That’s the biggest thing.
Q: What are the realistic expectations for Eric Curry when he’s back from his most recent injury?
A: We don’t know. We can’t predict the future. I know he’s got a great approach to his rehab. But he’s been out for a little bit. We have to take our time with him and bring him back slowly. Obviously, he’s very, very important to what we’re doing. It’s so hard right now to know. But we would expect that by the summer he would be able to do some quality reps. Who knows where this all goes?
Q: How do you feel about your father returning to coach in college at Iona?
A: It’s great to see him back doing what he loves. He went to Greece, because he loves to coach this game. He wanted to be around it. He loved it out there. Certainly, he missed being home. So, it’s awesome to see him back in New York where he’s from, where his roots are. I think he’s fired up to do that. He’s back where he belongs. I know he’s excited to get going.
Q: What is the latest on a scheduled game with Iona against the Gophers?
A: I think what we’ll do is when it’s time for scheduling talk about it. Whenever you get those guaranteed games and all that stuff it becomes challenging for finances and dates. There are lots of moving parts. It’s not as easy as I want to play you let’s get it done. We’ll talk about it. We’re going to continue to put ourselves in a position to fight for an NCAA tournament berth. If that means playing Iona, then we’ll do it.