Pitino’s real motivation is recruiting

Louisville coach Rick Pitino has agreed — basically for free — to coach Puerto Rico’s national team next summer.

He’ll be working pro bono with a bunch of guys he’s never met, many whom he’s never even heard of, for a country he doesn’t know much about for around three months beginning this April.

Why?

This one’s a layup.

Recruiting advantage.

Current NBA players J.J. Barea and Carlos Arroyo, former college stars Denis Clemente and AD Vassallo and current college players Mike Rosario and Jio Fontan all have Puerto Rican ties.

There are plenty of young, talented kids coming up through the ranks whom Pitino will now have the inside track to get to Louisville.

Including Ricky Ledo.

You see, Ledo is, according to Scout.com, the top-ranked shooting guard in the the entire country in the Class of 2012.

Ledo, who is of Puerto Rican descent, also just happens to sit atop Pitino and the Cardinals’ recruiting board.

Just think about this: If Ledo does elect to play for the Puerto Rican national team this year, Pitino will basically be in close contact with him from April through June.

In this day and age of recruiting restrictions, Pitino will essentially have none with regards to Ledo.

Art Alvarez, a former high school coach and current AAU coach who has helped more than 50 players from Puerto Rico play college ball in the United States, isn’t buying it.

Alvarez said Pitino gaining a recruiting advantage is just a small aspect to all of this.

"He said no at first, but the more he thought about it, the more he felt it was a good thing for him to do in his career," said Alvarez, who was at Pitino’s news conference Monday morning making it official and will be an adviser to Pitino. "Sure, he’d like to be able to coach a player from Puerto Rico down the road. He’s seen guys like Barea and Clemente come through the channels and he knows the talent is very rich."

"But I don’t think that’s why he took the job at all," added Alvarez.

Alvarez believes Pitino wants to do something unique and coach in the Olympics.

However, according to Alvarez, Puerto Rico must finish first or second at the pre-qualifier this summer in Argentina to get to the 2012 Olympics in London.

The Olympics are, well, a long shot.

"They have their backs against the wall," Alvarez admitted.

Puerto Rico last qualified for the Olympics in 2004, and its most successful stint at the Olympics was in 1964, when it finished fourth.

This isn’t about the Olympics.

Pitino is essentially making a three-month or so commitment — which he secretly hopes will pay dividends in the form of getting Ledo or another big-time prospect to Louisville.

That’s why Pitino jumped on a flight to Miami on Saturday after the Cardinals’ win against Gardner-Webb to meet with Barea, who was in town with the Dallas Mavericks, and Arroyo.

"It’s a tall order and that’s why I’m taking it," Pitino said shortly after the news conference Monday morning in Miami. "If they were already in (the Olympics), I wouldn’t do it. Their backs are to the wall."

The commitment that Barea and Arroyo will play for the national team was critical — but not nearly as much as the one Pitino is hoping to receive from Ledo.

The Cardinals are mediocre this season but have landed a consensus top-10 recruiting class — led by a pair of top-30 players in Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan — that will come into the KFC Yum! Center next season and make Pitino relevant nationally again.

Then, in 2012, especially if Pitino can land Ledo, the Cardinals could go deep into the NCAA tournament.

Louisville has received a verbal pledge from arguably the top point guard in the Class of 2012, Rodney Purvis, and the addition of Ledo could help put Pitino back in the Final Four — and maybe even in the hunt for a national title.

"He’s an icon, a legend — and is going to be a Hall of Famer," Alvarez said. "And there’s no doubt once he starts to coach the Puerto Rican national team that any kid from Puerto Rico will look upon signing with Coach Pitino and Louisville as an opportunity to maybe play for the national team."

And that, folks, is why Pitino is doing this.