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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Opponent Analysis

    Rick Pitino is no stranger to Madison Square Garden.

    He spent two seasons at the helm of the New York Knicks in the late 1980s and was an assistant coach for two other seasons. The native New Yorker also spent time at the Garden in his Big East trails as an assistant at Syracuse, a head coach at Providence and now while coaching Louisville, where he has been since 2001.

    “”It’s more special this year because we have some kids from the metropolitan area,”” Pitino said in a teleconference Thursday. “”It’s exciting for them to be heading back to the Garden. I know it is for myself and some of the members of my staff who are also from the New York area.””

    “”New York is a place I love dearly, and I keep a residence in New York,”” he added, “”but Kentucky is my home.””

    Pitino finds himself back at a Kentucky school after coaching the Kentucky Wildcats from 1989 to 1997 and taking them to three Final Fours, including a 1997 National Championship game loss to Arizona.

    Since Pitino joined Louisville, where he has gone 120-49 in five-plus seasons, the best news he has received may have been the age limit to the NBA. Not many coaches were spurned like Pitino.

    Louisville lost four potential stars to the NBA Draft: guards Sebastian Telfair and Donta Smith, center James Lang and forward Amir Johnson. Aside from Telfair, the other three are floundering in leagues below the NBA, and not coming to Lousiville hurt the Cardinals as well as themselves.

    “”We didn’t have backups for those four guys, so it set us back a year in recruiting, and now you know when you go in there, you can at least get this player for one year, more than likely two years,”” Pitino said.

    One of the guys who was earmarked for the NBA since his middle school days was Derrick Caracter, a 6-foot-8 freshman center who the media guide lists at 280 pounds. Caracter was one of only two players invited to the Nike All-American camp as a 14-year-old, and the New Jersey native was once the nation’s top recruit.

    “”He’s a big kid. He’s really slimmed his body down,”” said UA assistant coach Josh Pastner. “”He’s a high-level guy who will be another touch matchup for us.””

    It has not been an easy go for Caracter early in his career. Struggling with weight problems and academics, Caracter spent a year at Notre Dame Prep before becoming a Cardinal. This season, Caracter served a three-game suspension from the NCAA for receiving upward of $2,000 from a family friend who was involved with a sports agency.

    But against Arizona, Caracter will likely have his first chance to play college basketball.

    “”Give a lot of credit to his dedication,”” Pitino said. “”He came in very much maligned and probably deservedly so with the way he’s changed high schools and the way he’s gotten out of shape and not played very hard. He’s, since August, has lost 56 pounds. …How much he’ll play (tonight), I’m not sure.

    “”It’s a difficult game for Derrick because it’s a team that doesn’t really have a post-up center.””

    “”I’m not sure it’s the best game for him to come into playing against maybe one of the top offensive teams in college basketball in Arizona,”” Pitino added.

    Without Caracter and with a limited David Padgettð, an oft-injured 6-foot-11 center from Reno, Nev., who Arizona recruited, the Cardinals have gone small. Padgett, who Pitino said will not be 100 percent all season, gives Louisville less than 17 minutes a game, but it is another player who Arizona is familiar with who is forced to play power forward at 6-foot-6.

    Though they share the same last name, Marcus Williams and Louisville’s Terrence Williams are brothers in friendship only. Terrence, who has known Marcus since seventh grade and moved in with Marcus in high school, is leading Louisville in minutes while averaging 9.3 points per game.

    Rosborough said the UA coaching staff has debated whether they should have Marcus guard Terrence.

    “”I don’t know that we’ve absolutely decided that yet, but (Terrence)’s a talented kid,”” Rosborough said. “”I suppose it would be special for Marcus and for Terrence.””

    Alongside Williams, the Cardinals have two freshman guards in Jerry Smith (17.3 points per game) and Edgar Sosa (13.0 points per game) who can be explosive but also make mistakes. In its second game against Dayton, a 68-64 loss, Louisville showed its inexperience.

    “”A dose of reality against Dayton the other day,”” Pitino said. “”We’re starting a freshmen backcourt basically, and at the end of the game, we missed a layup, we blew a defensive assignment, two of our guys didn’t block out.””

    But Pitino said he must maintain an understanding with a young team.

    “”What I tried to do after the game was not get on them about missing the layups and not get on them about missing any type of shots,”” he said. “”That’s a uncontrollable thing, but you can control what you do defensively in terms of blocking out.””

    Playing in front of a large crowd at Madison Square, Pitino’s kids will have to grow up fast.

    “”I think we have to have some patience,”” he said, “”but on the other hand, we’ve gotta play these guys to get ready for the Big East in January.””

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