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Pitino looks like good fit for Gophers

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New University of Minnesota men's basketball coach Rich Patino, center, chats with Mike Ellis, left, at a a fundraiser for Gophers athletics on Monday. Also pictured are Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, right, and his wife Judy.
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BYRON — If you want to go by energy, confidence, and a twinkle in the eye, it appears as if Norwood Teague has made a wonderful hire.

The lineage doesn't hurt, either. Never a bad thing in basketball circles when your last name is Pitino, and you really are the son of the guy who just won a national championship at Louisville.

New men's basketball coach Richard Pitino has all of that, and had it on display Monday at Sombery Golf Club. Pitino was one of a host of Gophers coaches and athletic administrators who were in Byron for the "Gopher Road Trip Chalk Talk 2013," a fundraiser for Gophers athletics.

"Pitino was on our radar from the beginning of our hiring process," said Teague, who after firing Tubby Smith immediately after this season ended, took about two weeks to settle on Pitino as the Gophers' new basketball coach.

"Within about 10 minutes of my interview with (Pitino), I knew he was going to be the guy I'd hire," Teague said.

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So what was so enticing about the 31-year-old Pitino, this son of Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, who had only been a head college coach for one year, at Florida International?

Well, actually it was his experience. Richard Pitino had spent time on Rick Pitino's staff, as well as Florida coach Billy Donovan's. Those two are considered two of the top five coaches in the country, and play a fast, aggressive, and fun style. Richard Pitino's Florida International team mirrored his father's and Donovan's styles.

Youthful energy

Teague also appreciated that Pitino is young, and with that is brimming with energy. He's also hired a staff, including former Gophers and Minneapolis DeLaSalle player Ben Johnson, which is fresh faced and full of vigor.

Teague already sees them breathing life into the program.

"Richard Pitino will outwork everyone," Teague said. "Look at him, he's recruiting right now."

That was moments after a reporter had finished an interview with Pitino. He immediately was on the his cell phone, conducting business before sitting down with the paying guests at Sombery.

As for Pitino himself, he's excited about a basketball program that he terms a "sleeping giant."

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"I'm excited and I'm really fortunate to be here," Pitino said. "Minnesota is a unique place, with it being the only Division I program in the state and everybody being a Gopher fan. It is also a great school, and in basketball plays in the best conference in the country, the Big Ten. There's a lot to like here. There's a lot to sell."

Pitino sees it as his primary job do do just that — sell. In basketball, it means being able to recruit.

"Recruiting is really the lifeblood of any program," said Pitino, who jumped into this recruiting year late, with him not hired until April. Still, he's landed three recruits for the 2013-14 season, two of them guards.

"You need to have great players in order to be able to win."

Pitino believes there is some nice talent left on a Minnesota team which was inconsistent last year, but made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The most obvious ones are incoming junior guard Andre Hollins and incoming senior guard Austin Hollins.

"Andre can really put the ball in the basket," Pitino said. "It really helps when you have two guys who can shoot like that."

Pitino's biggest concern will be Minnesot'a inside game, which lost all-Big Ten player Trevor Mbakwe, as well as super athlete Rodney Williams.

Pitino will be depending on junior Elliott Eliason and sophomore Maurice Walker. He likes both center's abilities, but says that Eliason needs to add weight and muscle, while Maurice Walker needs to lose weight.

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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