Billy Reed is someone I have long admired; he is, to me, the David Broder of Kentucky athletics. So when he weighs in on something, I typically pay attention. When he weighs in on something about Louisville basketball, I always pay close attention. And when he weighs in, as he did this afternoon, on how well a job of coaching did Rick Pitino really perform this year, and whether Pitino will choose to come back next season or whisk himself away to a less stressful, more friendly job such as the currently available head coaching position at St. John's University in New York, I wonder, I worry, and I begin considering strongly whether there might really be something to what Reed is suggesting.
However, Reed stresses that it is only speculation at this point. Additionally, it doesn't make sense to me. I think it's crazy to think that Pitino would find solace or personal peace in media-crazed, scandal-obsessed New York... as I recall last summer, while we had some gripes with local coverage, Cardinal Laws as well as other hometowners were defending Pitino against the pulpit speeches and feigned self-righteousness of the "out-of-towner" onslaught, including several tabloid journalists from New York, all whom couldn't get enough. By the dozens, they were all calling for Pitino to resign or predicting that Pitino would resign in the wake of the Sypher scandal, because, well, that's a fun thing to do.
Nonetheless, Billy Reed has spoken, and his viewpoint stands out. I also think he hits on a lot of the conflicted emotions that many Cards fans are feeling after yesterday's loss. On Pitino's job performance this year:
On the one hand, you can make the case that because the parts never fit,
because nobody ever really stepped up to fill the sneakers of Terrence Williams
and Earl Clark, Pitino deserves credit for getting as much out of them as
anybody could reasonably expect -- a 20-13 final record, an NCAA bid, and, of
course, that glorious final victory over top-ranked Syracuse on March 6, the
last home game for the Cards in Freedom Hall.
But on the other, you also can make the case that Pitino hurt the team by
stubbornly refusing to play Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings together until
the end of the season, by never starting Peyton Siva at the point and moving
Edgar Sosa to shooting guard, and by erratic personnel moves.
How many times did a player have a good game, only to get little or no
playing time the next time out? Conversely, Pitino kept giving plenty of minutes
to Jerry Smith despite one lousy performance after another.
Early on, it was obvious that Smith, for whatever reasons, was going to be
more of a liability than an asset this season. His two-of-eight shooting
performance in the 77-62 NCAA opening-round loss to California was more or less
typical of his season.
Too often the Cards became perimeter-oriented offensively when it was obvious
their best option was to get the ball to Samuels in places where he could score.
Too often the shot selection was horrendous. Too often the Cards gave up easy
baskets by not playing defense with the usual Pitino grit.
On the notion that Pitino would consider leaving Louisville, Reed suggests that Pitino and his wife may desire a change in scenery:
Only insiders know how much of a distraction the Karen Sypher scandal was for
Pitino. The whole season, I never thought he looked relaxed or happy. At times,
in fact, he looked downright haggard -- haunted, almost. For the first time
since I started covering him in 1989, he rarely seemed to be enjoying himself.
As usual, the rumors have started about him leaving. Just the other day, a
guy was telling me that Joanne Pitino wanted to get out of Louisville because
she felt the family needed a fresh start in a new location.
I didn't laugh, as I usually do at Pitino-is-leaving rumors, because it makes
sense. Besides, whether Rick was working in Lexington or Louisville, Joanne has
remained a New Yorker to the core, declining to get involved in community
activities and spend a lot of time away from Kentucky.
Already jobs are open that I think make more sense for Pitino than Arizona or
Sacramento ever did. I could see him coaching at St. John's or Seton Hall. I
could see him going back to the Knicks or even coaching New Jersey.
But this is pure speculation and should be taken for what it's worth, which
isn't much. Maybe Pitino's future will depend on what happens when the Sypher
case goes to court, if it ever does.
Still, Reed notes that there's a lot to like about next year's squad:
Unlike some observors, I see the Cards being better next season. The senior
guards, Sosa and Smith, will not be missed. Neither will shooting forward Reggie
Delk, a streaky player on a streaky team. And if Samuels returns instead of
transferring or -- horrors! -- opting for the NBA draft, the Cards will have
more returning experience than most of their Big East rivals.
potential starting lineup of Samuels at center, either Rakeem Buckles or
Jennings at power forward, Jared Shropshire at small forward, Siva at the point,
and Preston Knowles at shooting guard, the Cards should be ranked in the
preseason Top 20. Kyle Kuric and Mark Marra will be solid reserves at either
small forward or shooting guard. George Goode will be back from an injury and
Stephen Van Treese could emerge as a useful backup center.
Throw in the new arena opening up, the expected burst in national attention that the program should receive as a consequence (of a different variety than was received last summer), not to mention another year between then and the Sypher episode, shouldn't that combination be refreshing enough? The wild card is recruiting. Pitino has to land a prized recruit and to do it soon, to keep all related parties -- including himself -- happy and satisfied.
Read Reed's full post here.