NEW YORK — The Big East pre-season player of the year sat by himself in a room in Madison Square Garden. So did highly touted and sometimes controversial West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins. And Georgetown Coach John Thompson sat there unbothered for a while, too.
At Big East media day Wednesday in New York, only one table was the popular one.
Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, a native New Yorker, strode into the interview room and faced a crowd of reporters. Since finishing last season as the Big East champions in the Elite Eight, stories out of Louisville have been more suited for Entertainment Tonight than Big East Monday night games.
"You guys and ladies look in the mirror and have difficult times in your life," Pitino said. "I'm no different from you."
Pitino, a married father of five, brought information about an alleged extortion attempt by Karen Cunagin Sypher to the FBI. Consequently, the investigation revealed Pitino admitted to having sex with her at a Louisville restaurant and offered her money to cover health insurance costs when she told him she was pregnant.
With the season tipoff against Arkansas just 3½ weeks away, Pitino said he is focused on finding a way to make up for the loss of NBA Draft picks Terrence Williams and Earl Clark. And on climbing back up the Big East rungs again after being selected fourth in the conference pre-season rankings. And on taking down Kentucky and its new coach, John Calipari, Jan. 2 in Rupp Arena.
But with Sypher facing federal charges of extortion, it's not exactly case closed for Pitino and Louisville.
"There will be no more distractions," he said. "I owe it to my team. There may be for a few hours one day a personal distraction on my part. What you all fail to realize, in recruiting, it hasn't come up one time in one phone call."
Pitino has tried to employ some lessons from the horse track. He once asked a prominent trainer about the blinders the racehorses wear. He couldn't believe that horses could become distracted during a race.
"Many times people, when they have great success, get distracted," he said. "Many times when they face adversity, they get distracted. It affects you both ways. You have to follow your path and stay focused on where you're trying to get with your team."