Pitino optimistic about 2009-10

The sting of the loss to Michigan State in the Midwest Regional final is starting to subside. After a disappointing end to an otherwise excellent season, Louisville coach Rick Pitino is ready to turn his attention to the 2009-10 season – and a relatively young, but talented team.

Louisville hoped to be dancing at the Final Four in Detroit this week after winning the Big East regular-season and tournament titles and earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the Cardinals were forced to swallow a bitter pill on Sunday in Indianapolis – a 64-52 season-ending loss to Michigan State in the Midwest Region finals.

"We're disappointed that we're not in the Final Four but I'm really proud of our basketball team and what they accomplished this year," Pitino said. "When we left that floor – I'm too old to cry over a basketball game – I felt like crying. It was quite a year to win the Big East, finish No. 1 in the country and make the Elite 8 again. This was a fantastic year."

While the season ended in disappointment it's still quite an accomplishment for the program to reach back-to-back Elite Eight's. Pitino believes the Louisville ‘brand' nationally is firmly established and he expects the Cardinals to continue to be a factor nationally well into the future.

"I think Louisville will be on the national scene for a long time," he said.

The immediate task for Pitino: Replacing two likely first round NBA Draft picks – forwards Terrence Williams and Earl Clark, in addition to point guard Andre McGee, the team's best perimeter defender.

"What we're losing right now is defense and rebounding," Pitino said. "The points you can always manufacture. We've got to really work hard on our man to man defense with our freshmen."

Pitino will rebuild around a pair of young, but talented big men in Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings and a veteran backcourt led by Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith and Preston Knowles.

"I expect us to have a good basketball team next year," Pitino said. "We're going to be a very young basketball team but we've got a lot of experience in certain areas. There's so much potential that has to be developed. There are four freshmen coming in. How much better will they get?"

At small forward, Pitino said he expects Reginald Delk to become more of a factor now that Williams is gone. Delk saw limited action behind Williams last season, but was a two-year starter in the SEC before transferring from Mississippi State two years ago.

"I think Reggie is going to be alright," Pitino said. "I think he'll play a much bigger role next year."

Though Samuels and Jennings played the same position as freshmen, Pitino is hoping to get both big men on the court at the same time next season. That means both players have a lot to work on this summer if they hope to become an effective tandem next year.

"I'm hoping they can play together," Pitino said. "They both can be low-post players. TJ's got to improve his low-post, duck-in game and learn offensive moves. TJ is good at running, getting to open spots and catching the basketball and dunking it…and offensive rebounding.

"Samardo has got to learn to play on the perimeter defensively and rebound the basketball. We've got a lot to work on with both of those guys but they do have talent."

Don't be surprised if Samuels, the team's starting center as a freshman, slides over to power forward next season.

"I think Samardo has got to learn to play power forward," Pitino said. "If he doesn't learn to go on the perimeter and guard an Earl Clark-type of basketball player he'll never play a minute in the NBA. (He's) got to work on his foot speed and get better defensively and running the court. He has the attitude to do it."

Louisville signed a Top 20 recruiting class last fall that includes McDonald's All-American point guard Peyton Siva. Though Siva will probably learn the ropes behind Edgar Sosa next season, it's clear Pitino has high hopes for the talented Seattle guard.

"I think Siva will be an Andre McGee-type of defensive player but I think he'll be a very explosive offensive player," Pitino said. "He's got terrific talent and he made his team better. He has great leadership potential down the road."

Pitino said he expects Clark and Williams to be taken in the first round of the NBA Draft and have long careers as "role players" in the league.

On internet rumors about being a possible candidate for other jobs, Pitino downplayed that possibility. "I don't think anybody has any interest in me," Pitino said. "I think they've realized I'm just too damn old. I think they've lost their interest. It's just ran the course of time. I don't think anybody has any interest in me anymore."

Cardinal Authority Top Stories