Pitino excited for second year on Minnesota campus

Richard Pitino led Minnesota to a 25-13 record in his first year, which included a victory over SMU in the NIT championship game. The goal now is to continue to build the Gophers program into an NCAA tournament team.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Richard Pitino is no longer the new guy on the Minnesota campus.

He’s built a rapport with his players. He knows the ins and outs of the Gophers’ facilities. And he recognized all the familiar faces of reporters there to interview him Tuesday at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

With his first year as the Gophers coach under his belt, Pitino is excited for what’s in store in year two.

"Year two is much more enjoyable that year one, just because I don’t have to get to know these guys as much," Pitino said Tuesday. "There’s that unknown there (in year one). Then, you’re trying to figure out what you have so that you can recruit. Now we know what we have; we know what we need. That part’s huge."

When Pitino took the job in April 2013, he was just 30 years old and had only one year of head coaching experience (with Florida International) on his resume. He had the crutch of his last name and his famous father, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, to fall back on, but Richard Pitino wanted to create his own identity.

Being a new coach at a rebuilding program didn’t make recruiting easy for Pitino last season as he had to fill his first Gophers recruiting class. He didn’t have any game film from Minnesota to show prospective recruits. But now Pitino not only has tape he can show off, but he has the success of winning the NIT Tournament to fall back on as he hits the recruiting trail.

"It’s never easy. It’s been less difficult because when they talk to me, they know we won the NIT," Pitino said. "They saw the game. It was a great game. They probably may have seen a couple games on TV, so they understand the way that we’re going to play, which is nice. . . . When I first came here, there’s so many unknowns. Now you don’t have that as much."

Pitino led Minnesota to a 25-13 record in his first year, which included a victory over SMU in the NIT championship game. The goal now is to continue to build the Gophers program into an NCAA tournament team that is competitive with the rest of the Big Ten.

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With 2013 as a blueprint, Pitino now has something to work from. And he continues to preach the importance of winning at home in Williams Arena, a venue Pitino believes can give the Gophers a true homecourt advantage.

"I think it’s going to be an awesome conference as always," Pitino said. "Coaching’s obviously great. The stability is great. The home courts are unbelievable. That’s why it’s so important for us to win at home."

Louisville game not open to public: It was announced last December that the Gophers will face Rick Pitino’s Louisville team early in the 2014-15 season in the Armed Forces Classic at a military hangar in Puerto Rico. Richard Pitino said Tuesday that tickets will be extremely hard to get — because it’s not open to the public.

"I think we each get about 55, 60 tickets each, and that includes everybody," Pitino said. "My dad already tried to steal some tickets from me, which I said no. But it’ll be a lot of fun. It’ll be great for our program to be on that stage."

The game is scheduled for Nov. 14 at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Air Station Borinquen in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. With only a handful of tickets available, and the rest of the crowd made up of military personnel, it will be a truly neutral site for both teams — although the Pitino clan will be conflicted.

"I’m sure about 10 of the tickets from my dad’s side will be my family, or at least 20," Pitino said. "So if they’re not rooting for me there’s a major problem. Hopefully we can make it a bit of a home game."

Newcomers impressing: Minnesota’s roster for the upcoming season includes four seniors, but this summer is Pitino’s first chance to see the incoming freshmen that make up his second recruiting class.

While Gaston Diedhiou and Bakary Konate are not yet on campus — they’ve been cleared by the NCAA but haven’t arrived yet — two other freshmen and two junior-college transfers have been taking part in the summer workouts. One name that came up several times Tuesday was that of Josh Martin, a freshman from Bothell, Wash.

When highlighting Martin’s athleticism, Pitino told the story of Martin doing a reverse dunk at the end of practice earlier this summer. His teammates saw him do it and wanted to imitate the 6-foot-8 freshman forward.

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"He’s got unbelievable potential," Pitino said. "He’s got to put it all together. It’s going to take some time. Joey (King) is so perfect for him because he can teach him a little bit of how to play, because Josh is still really, really raw in that regard."

Buggs recovering from surgery: Pitino mentioned Tuesday that redshirt sophomore forward Charles Buggs has been cleared for non-contact activities after undergoing minor knee surgery this offseason.

Buggs, who came off the bench for 16 games as a redshirt freshman last year, should be "good to go" by late September, Pitino said, when Minnesota resumes fall practice.

"What I love about Charles more than anything is he knows he has great potential. He knows it’s going to be a process," Pitino said. "He could have benefited from a full summer healthy. He didn’t get that. But I’m excited about him. I really am."

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