LOUISVILLE — It's been an uneasy off-season for Louisville Coach Rick Pitino. He's had to deal with a messy extortion case along with the annual NBA rumors that tend to follow him.
But Pitino said in a news conference Friday that neither of those distractions will detract from his duties.
"My job is to focus on the University of Louisville and the basketball program," Pitino said. "Times aren't easy. I'm not going to lie to you; I'm not going to talk about it. But times aren't easy. But if I can get through 9/11 (when his brother-in-law, Billy Minardi, was killed), I can get through anything in my life. I got through 9/11, and there's nothing that's ever going to come close to that. We'll get through this in a positive way and move on."
Pitino, who seemed in good spirits, didn't directly address the Karen Sypher extortion case. He did take shots at the rumor mill that has surrounded him this off-season.
"Very little truth has been said in this town, period, in a long time," Pitino said. "The truth will be told at a certain time. But I'm going to be coaching here because I love the University of Louisville, I love the city of Louisville, I love the state of Kentucky. Nothing will deter me from that job. Nothing will stop that."
Pitino also said there was no truth to the rumor that he wants the vacant Sacramento Kings job.
"I'm going to be the coach here until I retire," Pitino said.
As for how long it will be before he retires, the 56-year-old estimated it would be five or six years before he re-evaluated.
"I think I want to coach as long as I can compete at the highest level personally," Pitino said. "I think you have to be realistic at a certain age and say, 'You know what, my fastball's not quite as good anymore, I can't do this, I can't do that.'
"And then you have to be realistic with yourself. I know I can do it a good five or six more years. After that, it would get tough."
Pitino scheduled Friday's news conference to introduce Ralph Willard as his associate head coach. Willard, who has spent the past 10 seasons as head coach at Holy Cross, was an assistant under Pitino with the New York Knicks (1987-89) and at the University of Kentucky (1989-90). Willard also served as head coach at Western Kentucky from 1990-94 and at Pittsburgh from 1994-99.
Pitino said he values Willard's teaching acumen and his ability to evaluate talent. He also considers Willard his closest friend.
Willard said he won't have any problem stepping into the role of an assistant after spending so many years as a head coach.
"This game is about teamwork," Willard said. "Does Rick have the final say? Absolutely. I understand that. But I also know that he has enough confidence in me and he trusts me enough that I'll have a tremendous amount of input into that decision.
"Everybody's in this thing to win. I'm not concerned about what the title is. I'm about accomplishing something special."
Willard replaces Pitino's son, Richard, who left U of L to take an assistant job with Billy Donovan at Florida.
Pitino said he wanted his son to move on so he could broaden his horizons as a coach.
"It had nothing to do with anything you think of," Pitino said. "Richard would have never considered leaving the University of Louisville for anyone other than Billy Donovan, who's like a son to me. I think I've taught him everything I could teach him as far as a certain style. I wanted him to get out and be his own man."
Louisville's 2009 season ended with a disappointing loss to Michigan State in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, but Pitino said his program is in fine shape. He pointed to Louisville's Big East regular season and tournament titles, the school's first No. 1 national ranking, and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"It took us a while to build a brand," Pitino said. "We are back. The University of Louisville is where it needs to be. It's back."
Pitino said Willard will help the Cardinals maintain their spot among the nation's elite, a necessity considering the high-profile coaches in the vicinity: John Calipari (Kentucky), Tom Crean (Indiana) and Bruce Pearl (Tennessee).
"These guys can get out and flat-out recruit the best players in the country," Pitino said. "Everybody can coach. What bothers me is guys that can coach and recruit. We've got guys here now that can do both at a very high level."
As for Louisville's 2009-10 team, the Cards have been absent from most pre-season polls after losing probable NBA first-round draft picks Terrence Williams and Earl Clark. But Pitino said he likes the potential of his team, pointing to a senior backcourt of Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith, a promising frontcourt with Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings, and a solid freshman class.
"We won't be as highly ranked as we were last year, but sometimes that's a good thing," Pitino said.
■ Pitino was asked how much accountability coaches should have regarding the standardized test scores of incoming recruits, an issue that came to light recently after some of Calipari's former players at Memphis faced questions about the validity of their tests. Pitino said the situation is difficult for head coaches to control.
"I don't think you can know," Pitino said. "You'd have to sit outside the high school where they're going (to take the test). You can't control those situations. Everybody's got to be accountable for their job. The high school coaches, teachers, they've got to be accountable. It's not our job to make sure kids get their core. We can only direct the admissions people as to what we need at the University of Louisville."