Tip-off Luncheon Notebook

Rick Pitino told a sold-out crowd of about 1,400 fans at Louisville's annual tip-off luncheon Thursday that his 2011-12 team is one of the most talented and deep that he's coached since coming to UofL a decade ago.

Louisville will officially open the season Friday night with a Red-White scrimmage at the KFC Yum! Center and Pitino has lofty expectations for the Cardinals, who enter the season as a consensus Top 15 preseason pick, but face a schedule that ranks among the nation's most difficult.

"With the schedule we have I'm not into wasting time," Pitino said. "We need to get right at it, see what we have, see what we need to work on. We'll go into the weekend with double-sessions. So we'll be able to show them film from the first scrimmage and show them what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong."

Led by senior forward Kyle Kuric and guard Chris Smith, and junior point guard Peyton Siva, Pitino believes his team is one of the hardest working in college basketball.

"That's what we're going to strive for this year, not to take possessions off," Pitino said. "We have a very talented group. It's as talented and deep a group as I've had since I've been here. But it's also the toughest schedule."

Several players aren't expected to play in Friday's scrimmage for various reasons, including junior forward Rakeem Buckles and freshman guard Wayne Blackshear. Junior forward Stephen Van Treese also will sit out the scrimmage, though junior forward Jared Swopshire and reserve point guard Elisha Justice are expected to see action.

"Buckles will travel with us to New York for media day and Doctor (Norm) Scott will give him the last checkup before we hope to have the release for him to start practicing," Pitino said. "Van Treese is probably out another 10 days. Blackshear is probably out another week, we hope. Bullet's been hurt but he'll play in the scrimmage. And Swopshire is not 100 percent, but he's playing."

After last year's "bridge" season, Pitino sounded eager Thursday for the start of a promising, new campaign.

"I think we're a veteran ball club," Pitino said. "You never know what you have until you get out there and start playing defense. We had an incredible attitude last year, some comebacks we didn't expect. We were undefeated in the Big East at the KFC Yum! Center."

A hot topic at the tipoff luncheon was the current conference situation with the Big East, and speculation that Louisville could replace Missouri if the Tigers leave the Big 12 for the SEC. Pitino's opening remarks to the crowd dealt with the subject, and he told reporters this minutes before taking the podium:

"We're going to be in the Big East for the next two years regardless of what happens. We'll see what shakes out. Tom Jurich, at the right time, will approach that subject. For right now, we're very happy to be in the Big East."

Pitino had extremely high praise for Chane Behanan and said the freshman currently checks in at 258-pounds, but has only eight percent body fat.

Pitino spoke highly of Gorgui Dieng's character and said the sophomore center is up to 240-pounds, up from 212-pounds last season.

Though George Mason transfer Luke Hancock can't play this season because of transfer rules, Pitino said the 6'5 forward scored 22 points in Louisville's first scrimmage. Pitino said Hancock, who hit the game-winning shot against Villanova in the NCAA Tourney, is a terrific offensive player.

Pitino stated his belief that Peyton Siva is one of the top three point guards in college basketball. Pitino said Siva's team always wins during scrimmages.

Pitino said Jared Swopshire, who missed last season with a gruesome groin injury where the muscle was ripped from the bone, is about 75-80 percent healthy.

Pitino called Kyle Kuric a carbon-copy of former Louisville standout Larry O'Bannon.


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