INDIANAPOLIS — You knew the questions about the University of Kentucky basketball coaching situation would start rolling in for Rick Pitino. And after showing some initial restraint, Pitino didn't resist the opportunity to give his take.
In Pitino's opinion, UK should have looked to Pat Riley immediately after Tubby Smith left for Minnesota two years ago. If Riley had refused, Pitino said that John Pelphrey and Travis Ford, two of his former players at Kentucky, should have gotten a call. And he says UK should strongly consider hiring Pelphrey or Ford now that Billy Gillispie has been given the pink slip.
"It's such a unique job that you need to win over the fans," Pitino said. "You need to win the press conference right away. The reason Pelphrey and Travis, and I don't say this because I love both guys dearly as ex-players, I think they're brilliant young coaches. If you said to me right now, in three years, who will be one of the bright young stars in our game, I would say, without reservation at all, that John Pelphrey or Travis Ford would both be young stars in the game.
"On top of that, they are beloved by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and all their fans, what they call Big Blue Nation. I don't care where they're at, they love Oklahoma State, love Arkansas, but those two guys, you cut them open, and it spells UK. That's what I would do.
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"Last time around, I thought that's what they should do because, three years from now, they're going to have one of the bright young coaches in the game. You could take the whole nation, myself, Tom Izzo, anybody else into the equation, those two guys would be better than all of us for the job. That's my two cents that lasted 20 minutes."
Izzo wants to reach UK's level
Speaking of Izzo, he was also asked whether he would be interested in the UK job.
"I don't think there's a guy in this planet that would ever say he's not going anywhere, not doing anything," Izzo said. "I don't think there's anybody on this planet that would ever say, I'm here to stay, I'm this, I'm that. I don't think me, you or anyone else. So I would never do that because I think it would be insulting to you and me.
"But, at the same time, I got so many goals and so many things I'd like to accomplish here yet. We've put a heck of a dent in it. But when you look at Kansas, Kentucky, Carolina, Duke in general, we're not at that level yet, and that's the level I'd like to get to. So I still got a lot of work to do. The people at Michigan State have been great to me. I'm going to continue to work for them."
Pitino said he'd be surprised if Izzo were to leave Michigan State for another job.
"He's on everybody's wish list, but nobody can pry him away," he said. "Nobody probably ever will pry him away. I hope not for Michigan State because they've got truly one of the great ones."
Izzo remains friends with former UK coach Tubby Smith, who's now at Minnesota. Izzo made reference to the fact that Smith could have had another Final Four or two under his belt if not for close losses to the Spartans in 1999 and 2006.
"Two of those Elite Eights, we beat him in games that we just as well could have lost," Izzo said. "We got lucky in both of them. The first one, they had, I think, a 21-4 lead. We came back. The second one, it was that triple overtime game. All I remember is Ashley Judd yelling the three was good (by UK guard Patrick Sparks at the end of regulation). That was the only time I didn't like her in my whole life.
"I did not like what happened to Tubby Smith personally. But I don't know everything that happened either. I wasn't there. I just know that I'm happy he's at Minnesota, happy he's in the Big Ten, and sad that now we get to play against each other two, three times a year. It's harder to keep our friendship (laughter)."
Morgan breaks nose
Michigan State junior forward Raymar Morgan was fitted for a mask on Saturday after breaking his nose in Friday's 67-62 win over Kansas. Morgan, MSU's second- leading scorer at 11 points per game, scored just four in 13 minutes on Friday.