October 26, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Rick Pitino praised the NCAA for its professional approach in the governing body's investigation of a sex scandal involving Louisville men's basketball and the coach pledged his program will be accountable for things that went wrong on his watch.

Pitino spoke Wednesday at the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball media gathering, a week after the NCAA said Louisville committed four serious violations and criticized Pitino for failing to monitor a former Cardinals basketball staffer who hired escorts and strippers for sex parties with recruits and players.

Pitino skipped media day last year on advice of counsel as the sex scandal broke. Though the case may not be completely resolved for several months, on Wednesday, a smiling, hopeful Pitino was ready to move the conversation back to basketball and his team's chances to compete for a league title.

''We're disappointed in what happened. Nobody's more disappointed than me of what happened and where it happened,'' he said. ''I keep saying over and over, I'll never understand why it happened. That's the most difficult thing when I go to bed at night.''

Pitino said the NCAA's investigation was ''very thorough'' and said the governing body acted in a very professional manner.

''We've got to be accountable and we will,'' Pitino continued.

The NCAA's report last week didn't mention a lack of institutional control - considered the most serious violation in some cases - which Pitino said means his program is ''doing some things right.''

The sordid Louisville mess had some questioning if the 64-year-old Pitino, who has led the Cardinals and Kentucky to national championships, should keep his job.

His players never doubted their coach's leadership.

''He's such a Hall of Famer, such a first-class guy on and off the court,'' Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell said.

Pitino said the penalties Louisville imposed on its programs were significant. The team, which went 23-8 and finished fourth in the ACC, was kept out of both the league and NCAA tournaments. The school also reduced its scholarships by two, one each for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons; limited the basketball staff's days on the road recruiting and cut official visits by prospects by two - in all a 24 percent reduction in recruiting opportunities, according to the school.

Mitchell acknowledged how much it hurt to miss the postseason. He recalled last March watching friends take part in NCAA Tournament games and knowing the Cardinals deserved to be there, too.

''I was in the gym listening to Notre Dame play whoever, watching my friends play on TV and sometimes I'd sit there with my mom and think, `That's just crazy,''' he said.

Mitchell insisted the bad times are done.

''We're past it and we're using it as motivation to get to where we need to get to this year and we're really focused on being a really good basketball team,'' he said.

Things, though, are not over for Louisville or Pitino.

The school has 90 days from the NCAA's Oct. 17 letter to respond and process might last until spring. Pitino could also face additional NCAA penalties similar to the nine-game suspension Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim received this past season as part of his program's punishment.

Pitino's not worried about that now. He said he's rarely enjoyed coaching a group as much as this one in part because of their resiliency in the face of the NCAA investigations and the outside noise about the program.

And it sounds like the 64-year-old Pitino plans to stick around for a while. He said he's assured prospects' families that they won't ever have to worry about such problems again. ''This will be my strongest recruiting class yet,'' he said.

Pitino also does not fret what the NCAA's accusations might do to his Hall-of-Fame legacy. ''I think when you start thinking about your legacy, it's time to get out of the game,'' he said. ''Your ego is out of whack. The only good thing about turning 50, and then turning 60 is your humility grows in who you are and what you are.''

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AP College Basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org

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