Rick Pitino learning he can change, still find success

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On the surface, Rick Pitino is a bad man.

He dresses slick, is incredibly sarcastic with the media and rarely wastes an opportunity to use punishment as a teaching opportunity.

It’s this approach that makes him one of the more recognizable, if not best, head coaches of the past 25 years.

But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed as this season has moved along, it’s how increasingly affable Pitino has become. Suddenly, he simply just seems happier. He’s flaunting his charismatic personality far more than his patented snarl.

A demanding and sometimes manipulative guy, the 59-year-old has had a number of well defined stages to his life. Perhaps the next stage is Pitino closing out his career at peace.

ESPN’s Rick Reilly sees it that way too:

Pitino’s life has more chapters than the Red Cross. He has been the whiz kid (the 1987 Final Four at Providence), the savior (at Kentucky in 1989 after Eddie Sutton left it in ruins), the goat (leaving Grant Hill unguarded in the infamous 1992 loss to Duke), the hero (the redemptive 1996 Kentucky title), the NBA answer (jumping to the pros for a second time in 1997 after two straight NCAA title games), the NBA failure (five losing seasons of six at New York and Boston), and, now, the dreamer (at Louisville, forever Robin to Kentucky’s Batman).

So this moment, this Saturday, with the commonwealth of Kentucky in flames all around him, should be the close-up of his life. Yet it’s not. He might be the least wound-up person in the entire state.

While it’s a great read – and includes a few fantastic anecdotes on Russ Smith on Gorgui Dieng – Reilly’s article should be taken with a grain of salt.

Let’s be realistic: you could probably attribute a measurable amount of Pitino’s more tolerable personality to his Cardinals overachieving the last month of the season.

Remember, this is a team that lost by 31 to Providence in the middle of January; the most helpless part of the season where you start to get sick of the grind but realize you’re not even halfway up the mountain. Pitino wasn’t so happy then, and neither were his players. It appeared the quirky personalities on the Cardinals roster were clashing with the aging coach.

So could it have been at that point where Pitino, a guy with more than 800 wins between both college and the NBA, five Final Four appearances and one National Championship at the time, made a concerted effort to just … calm down?

“[Rick] told us the other day he doesn’t have that many years left,” Kuric told Reilly after the Cardinals won the West Region. “He said he’s going to enjoy it. He’s going to be around people he likes.”

While a berth in the Final Four was well deserved, the Cardinals could have easily been bounced at any point in this tournament.

Pitino knows these are the breaks of a 68-team playoff system. Sometimes you get Kenneth Faried grabbing 17 rebounds, other times you get Florida shooting 0-9 from beyond the arc in the second half.

He’s happy to be in New Orleans, yes, but probably thrilled at the opportunity to show his self-reformation may be the primary reason this team is still standing.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.