NEW ORLEANS — Day Two of the Rick Pitino-John Calipari show didn’t disappoint.
During their press conferences Friday, the two men mixed various shots with praise, clarifications of earlier statements and awkward comments about the other.
Asked about Calipari’s comment earlier this year that “It’s Kentucky [basketball] throughout the whole state,” Pitino had this to say.
“John has only been in this state three years, so he doesn’t know the magnitude of Louisville basketball, for that matter, the history. You say so many things, you’re going to make a mistake. I’ve made so many myself. He made a mistake probably in what he said.”
In October, Calipari said; ”It’s a unique thing. There’s no other state, none, that’s as connected to their basketball program as this one. Because those other states have other programs. Michigan has Michigan State, California has UCLA, North Carolina has Duke. It’s Kentucky throughout this whole state, and that’s what makes us unique.”
Asked to clarify his quote Friday, Calipari said: “I didn’t say that. …The state is unique in that Kentucky fans are throughout the state. You don’t have many Kentucky fans or North Carolina fans in Durham or many Duke fans in Chapel Hill or UCLA fans in, you know, Sacramento. I mean, it’s just different.
“Now, Louisville has their base of fans. Louisville is a great program…There was no disrespect.”
Pitino added in response to the initial comment: “It doesn’t light a fire under us any more. We want to beat them badly. They want to beat us badly. Not because it’s Louisville, not because it’s Kentucky, but because it’s the right to play for the national championship.”
Pitino was also asked for Calipari’s strength as a coach, and the Louisville coach went right to the one-and-done issue.
“You know, he probably coaches young players better than anybody in the game,” he said. “I don’t know if I would ever want to do it or ever could do it, to coach a new group of freshmen every year. Very difficult. Freshmen have a lot of emotional immaturity that you have to get them over before they start working on their physical maturity.
“He’s probably done it better than anybody in this game. He gets guys better.”
When Calipari was asked about Pitino’s abilities as a “strategist,” he got defensive.
“You’re basically saying I have none of that, is that right?” he asked. “You’re just not praising me about mine, you’re praising him.”
Pitino led Kentucky to an NCAA title in 1996 while Calipari is seeking his first title. Pitino often refers to his time there as “Camelot.”
Asked if that ’96 team was similar to this 2012 Kentucky team because both are loaded with talent and both are heavy favorites, Pitino said: “You know, I was probably, in ’96, in the shoes that John is in now….Really when you finally win it, it’s an awful lot of fun and you feel relief not only for yourself, but you feel it for the players who are getting it the entire time.
“This team, their team and our team, was No. 1 for a long period of time, and you expected to win it.”
Asked for his recollections of losing with UMass to that Kentucky team in the ’96 Final Four, Calipari said: “They had nine NBA players. They were really a talented team.
“What I remember about the game when we lost was going up to Rick, hugging him, telling him, ‘I’m happy for you, and I really want you to win your championships. At that time he had not won one yet. Being at Kentucky.”
Still, pointing out that Louisville is the underdog, Pitino added, “As we all know, anything can happen in a basketball game.”
Reminded that Kentucky is loaded with future pros like Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones, Pitino said his club has some future pros, too.
“Those three guys (Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva and Chane Behanan) I think will get a good look at the NBA level,” he said.
Finally, Pitino cracked that the lifestyles of the Kentucky coach and the Louisville coach were remarkably different.
“When you’re the Kentucky coach, John last Kentucky Derby told me he had seven troopers following him,” Pitino said. “I had seven gumbas from New York with me. It’s a lot different.”