Louisville men's basketball head coach Rick Pitino is closing out a lame-duck season that will see the Cardinals left out of the NCAA tournament due to a recruiting scandal, which has the Basketball Hall of Famer looking ahead to his future with the program.
In the wake of former escort Katina Powell releasing the book Breaking Cardinal Rules—which accused ex-Louisville assistant Andre McGee of paying for strippers and escorts to woo prospective recruits—Louisville self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2015-16 season.
According to ESPN.com's Ian O'Connor, Pitino has enjoyed the stretch run despite the initial disappointment, and it will play a significant factor in whether he returns for the 2016-17 campaign. He said:
"This team rejuvenated me in a great way, because I have awesome guys who are playing for nothing still giving me incredible effort each night. I'll step away from the game after the season and say, 'Are you having fun?' I'll look at it and do some thinking and then let the chips fall where they may."
While Pitino very much left the door open for retirement or simply a departure from Louisville, he made it clear that he isn't necessarily leaning in that direction:
"I think anything's possible. I doubt it. I don't think it's probable. I just was blindsided, disgusted and saddened by this whole thing. ... I thought we'd be playing for the national title and going to the Final Four this year, and it was a shock that it was taken away."
The 63-year-old, two-time national championship-winning head coach concluded that his decision will come down to what he believes is best for the Louisville basketball program, per O'Connor:
I'll ask myself after the season if Louisville is a better place with Rick Pitino as coach, and if the answer is yes, I'll do what I've done for 15 years and come back and fight for a championship, and that's what I plan on doing. But if the time comes that I feel Louisville is better off without me, I'm without ego now. I'd recommend this job to everybody. The town is great, the AD is off-the-charts fantastic and loyal, and I have a super team coming back. But if I think Louisville will be better off without me, anything's possible.
Pitino's current team is 21-6 and ranked 11th in the country. It has defeated the likes of North Carolina and Duke, and it certainly would have been a title threat if not for the sanction.
Losing leading scorers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis to graduation means the 2016-17 campaign could be a rebuilding year for the Cardinals.
Pitino has a knack of exceeding expectations, though, and it is difficult to imagine another coach getting more out of the team.
While getting over the 2015-16 season may be difficult for Pitino since it is a missed opportunity in terms of chasing another championship, his track record suggests that he gives the Cardinals the best chance to win next year and for many years to come.
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