Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Louisville's sour coach

Louisville's loss to Michigan in the NCAA tournament was disappointing, as a result of a long term allegiance to Louisville the city and the team based on living there in the 1970's.  Louisville won the NCAA tournament in 1980 and 1986, and competed to near the end of the tournament during many years at that time.  Louisville's last minute loss to UCLA in the final four in 1975 put me into a depressed state for several weeks, such that I vowed to never let myself get that involved as a sports fan ever again.

At that time their coach was a personality free and almost emotion free former assistant to John Wooden.  His name was Denny Crum.  Somehow and strangely, he recruited and coached teams with more personality, team chemistry, and more charming quirks than any other seriously good team seen at that time, and that comparison may be more true today.

The Louisville coach since 2001 has been Rick Pitino.  He has been a successful coach at many levels and under him Louisville won the NCAA tournament in 2013 with a relentless defense that rattled opponents for 40 continuous minutes.  Year end year out Louisville is a contender during the season and plays a tough schedule.  Watching Louisville for the first time this year on Saturday, I watched a talented team, but they seemed stressed, even fearful.  Michigan played freely and with an ease of team play that was a picture of camaraderie.  Louisville had a solid lead midway through the second half and then seemed to tighten up.  The always intense Pitino grew even more intense in time-outs. He is totally in the moment, his moment as he seems totally self absorbed, no pats on the back for the players or anything to loosen them up or cheer them on.

After the game Pitino was interviewed and his intensity continued.  As an aside that was necessary, he said that Michigan played well and was a tough team, but that Louisville lost because they did not think.  He said that the Louisville players worked as hard as he could expect, but that their mental game was weak.  With most of the team returning for next year, he challenged his players to work on that.  He never smiled during the interview, and never said a truly appreciative word about his players, and any self deprecation or responsibility on his part was not in the conversation.

He is a winning coach and a knowledgeable basketball talent, but there is an unattractive side to him that lacks compassion and empathy, or even how his words could personally reflect on team members.  "Not smart", look at the team and it's almost a Trumplike statement.  His program at Louisville has periodically been hit by violations over the years, big, small, or embarrassing.  Do his players have fun?  It does not appear to be part of his formula.

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