Louisville announced a self-imposed postseason ban on Friday afternoon, effectively forcing Rick Pitino’s No. 19-ranked team out of a tournament run this March.
Speaking at the same press conference, Pitino said “painful” was one of the “biggest understatements” he could make.
His program has been under fire since last fall, when a former stripper published a tell-all book that included allegations of a recruiting sex scandal. Soon afterward, a group of five former Cardinals recruits corroborated facts from the book.
Friday was the first time the university confirmed wrongdoing, although it did not go into detail.
Pitino spoke at length on several topics. Here’s a breakdown of the notable moments:
On the tournament… We didn’t know how good we would be, but we knew we had a special group. I compared it to the 1987 Providence team, which is probably as close to my heart as any team I’ve coached. Every single day, at least four to five times a week, I gave them some inspirational footage of teams of mine that did well in the NCAA tournament, because they were an inexperienced group.
On Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, fifth-year seniors… When they came here, they said to me: ‘Coach, we’ve never experienced the NCAA tournament and Louisville has a record for going far. We just want the experience one time of playing in the tournament and seeing how far we can go.’
On giving the team bad news… As I told them the penalty, they all stood up and just started hugging Damion and Trey as they cried. You know, it’s never easy for the people who don’t deserve it. It happens all the time. This is not a team that wasn’t going to make the tournament. This is a team that is very much favored to go very far in the tournament.
On the penalty… It comes with complete shock to me, because I’ve been kept in the dark with all the things that Dr. (James) Ramsey has gone through with his committee — and coaches are supposed to be kept in the dark. It wasn’t anything on purpose. Coaches are supposed to be totally oblivious to anything that’s going on when it comes to the investigation.
On personal emotions and Kentucky lessons… I’ve had my share of crying and didn’t want to go through it anymore. But this is certainly a night of extreme pain. Last night, especially, before telling them this … I go through so many — being in this town — difficult times because Kentucky’s part of the fabric of this community, and the fact that I coached at Kentucky for eight years; People always ask me what I remember most about my experiences. Was it the championship? Was it the three Final Fours? Was it the Christian Laettner loss?
You know what I remember the most? When I got there, some guy was living on a billboard for 30 days until they hired a coach. They said that this would be the nadir, the lowest point in Kentucky history. And the four guys that were left behind weren’t very good. Probably not going to play for you, but that’s all you got. I told those four guys stop hanging your heads, get yourself into shape and get with it. It’s not the end of the world. We’ll survive. You’ll survive and go through much worse than this.
But the thing I was blown away with everything that I’ve experienced there, for the next two years, even though that first year’s team beat Shaquille O’Neal, Stanely Robinson, Chris Jackson. The thing that was most amazing to me was we had the largest crowds in the history of Kentucky basketball, and this team wasn’t going anywhere. And then the following year, we won the SEC even though we couldn’t be acknowledged or go to the tournament. The year after we lost that game to Christian Laettner at the buzzer, and those four guys who weren’t very good, out of shape; their four names were put up to the rafters at Rupp, and they were known as ‘The Unforgettables.’
The lesson I learned about that was the support for a difficult time from the fans.
Moving forward… Damian and Trey have nothing; nothing to look forward to future-wise right now. They were hit over the head with a sledgehammer and they’re devastated, as well as the rest of the team, for actions that they weren’t involved with. They came here to go far in the tournament. They’ve done their job. They’ve captured the imagination of our fans. They’ve led a basketball team with an attitude second to none.
The final four home games are all they have left. It’s up to our fans, our administration, our university, to lift them up as high as they can be lifted, along with the rest of the members of this basketball team who have just given me so much personal satisfaction and happiness. So, I call for our fans to come out in the final four games in full force. To honor not only Damian and Trey, but it’s all we have left this season to look forward to.
Motives in alleged sex scandal… I cannot fathom why. I know why someone robs a bank: They want the money. None of this, to this day, makes any sense to me at all.
Final thoughts… This is a punishment I thought would never happen this season. This is a decision that’s as harsh as anything I’ve seen. But I’m a soldier in this army, and I’ll go along with Dr. Ramsey and certainly there’s no one in life I have more respect for than (athletic director) Tom Jurich, so we will go along with this, and we will play the last nine games of the season as if they’re the last nine games we’ll ever play the game. So I would like you to call to our fans to come out in full force tomorrow in support of these incredible young men. And that’s all I can ask for as a head basketball coach. Thank you.