Louisville coach Rick Pitino, looking ahead to the Final Four and a semifinal game against Wichita State on Saturday:
Q. You mentioned yesterday you had Wichita State in the Final Four. Did you actually fill out a bracket?
COACH PITINO: No, we just thought of coaches who we thought who would move on. I was talking with my son, and I said I thought Wichita State has a great chance of being a surprise team to the Final Four.
He asked me which teams would you think. I said VCU and Wichita State. I just happened to watch the VCU game. They’re mentally and physically tough. I was very impressed with them. Each game, they looked better and better.
Q. Rick, now that you’ve played four games in the tournament, seen who is who, what is your take on the famous idea of parity in the tournament?
COACH PITINO: Well, I tell you, the other guys can speak for themselves, our bracket was a death bracket. I’ve experienced quite a few NCAAs. I’ve never played the likes of a Colorado State in the second round. They’re a team that was very much capable of getting to a Final Four. Then Oregon was just absolutely terrific. Then certainly CoachK and Duke, you know, Mike is a special guy. He called me this morning. He tried to get to me to see how Kevin was doing. He’s just a special man, special coach. To play Duke in an Elite 8, never mind a Final Four, it was a death bracket.
We’re excited to be there and we know there are four teams in that Final Four all capable of winning a national championship. They’re all playing great. Just so impressed with all of them. Obviously Jim is a close friend of mine. I know what his defense is all about, the way his players are playing. We have faced them. And certainly any team that can beat Florida by 20 and dominate a game the way Wichita State has done is amazing.
Four teams playing terrific basketball right now. We’ve gone through a very difficult bracket. It’s been a very emotional ride for us. We’re glad we have a day off and we’ll regroup tomorrow.
Q. You see the numbers about how Louisville is the top‑rated basketball market TV‑wise. Before you took over the program, were you aware of how feverish the fan base was?
COACH PITINO: It always picks up when you’re winning. According to Forbes magazine, nine years in a row now we’ve been the number one revenue producer in college basketball. As a matter of fact, we made $44 million, which was more than the Green Bay Packers and $15 million more than our second‑place finisher, North Carolina.
So basketball in our state, a small state, we are in the top three in attendance every year. Kentucky is always one or two, then Syracuse. There’s states like Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas, that are so much into basketball. We don’t have professional sports, so we are the professional team. The fervor is incredible. We must have had 20,000 Louisville fans there yesterday.
It means an awful lot to them because we do not have professional sports. If the Jets are doing poorly, you go to the Giants. If the Mets are doing poorly, you go to the Yankees. Or you pick up hockey.
It’s picked up now with back‑to‑back Final Fours, Kentucky winning the national championship last year. It means a lot in our state.
Q. I was wondering Kevin’s reaction to you bringing the trophy to him in the hospital?
COACH PITINO: He was real excited about it. I said to him, You want me to bring it back or stay with you? He said, It’s staying with me. I said, All right, just make sure you don’t lose it.
He’s very excited.
But, you know, the sight of it was very difficult. But in all my years of coaching, which is probably too long, I’ve never seen someone just keep yelling to the players. I had to bring them all over, listen to him. He said, Just win the basketball game, I’ll be fine, and get me home to Atlanta. He kept repeating it over and over. That was the only words coming out of his mouth to the players: Just win the game. He kept repeating it over and over.
That was on my mind all night, how valiant he was with that type of injury.
Q. Rick, Gregg Marshall and John Beilein are not overnight successes. I ran some numbers, it’s kind of amazing twice as often a guy gets to the Final Four, they never get back. You must understand how hard it is to get back there, even though you’ve done it seven times. How did you feel in 1987 in Providence, did you feel you would be back there as many times as you have, or did you realize how hard it was going to be?
COACH PITINO: It’s very hard. There’s a lot of great coaches out there a lot better than me who have never been there. It’s very difficult to get to a Final Four because along the way, you may need a little luck, along the way you may need a shot at the buzzer or a free throw.
Our women’s team last night beat Baylor. We were watching the last two minutes of the game. So nothing’s ever given.
There’s only one time in my life I said, if we stay together, no ego comes into play, in 1996, I had eight NBA players on my team, and I thought we had a shot to get to a Final Four. I didn’t even take it for granted. I knew we had to play very well.
Outside of that, I only thought about the next game we were playing, and hoped we could survive and advance.
You never expect it. When it does happen, you feel really blessed that you’re getting there. You know, there’s no doubt in my mind, I know John Beilein for a long time, competed against him many times, I’m sure he’ll be back there many times. And Gregg, a young coach, impressed with him. Jim will be back there 10 more times because he’s going to out‑live every one of us (laughter).