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Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Pitino coached well through Sypher mess

By Eamonn Brennan

If you were a Louisville fan in 2009-10, and you watched your Cardinals suffer through a rather mediocre year while coach Rick Pitino dealt with lurid off-court issues like an impending extortion trial and media battle with Karen Cunagin Sypher, you probably had reason to worry about your head man. Was his head still in the right place? Was the Sypher mess weighing on him? What if his focus was the reason for Louisville's sudden downslide?

You'd have been glossing over a whole bunch of other factors -- most importantly, the fact that Pitino sent Earl Clark and Terrence Williams to the NBA draft after the 2008-09 season -- but, still, the thought could have crept into your head. Fair? No. Prudent? Maybe.

Interestingly enough, Shaun Assael, author of new ESPN Insider blog The File*, requested the full testimony from Pitino's embarrassing trial this summer. Why? To check out the more obscure, less salacious details from Pitino's extortion. What did Assael find? In his own words:
What it shows is something that hasn't received a lot of attention: Pitino managed to have one of the best seasons of his coaching career while watching his personal life fall apart.

The ensuing entry is very detailed and very long, so you should probably just go over and read the whole thing. But the general gist is this: At nearly every successful step of Louisville's undeniably very successful 2008-09 campaign, Pitino was simultaneously coaching his team to big road wins, leading the Cardinals to the top of the Big East tournament and notching a No. 1 seed while at the same time -- oftentimes just minutes before games -- receiving threatening phone calls, envelopes with lists of demands, and even a phone call from Sypher's mother asking why her grandson's car hadn't yet been bought. Yeah. It went there.

Anyway, if Louisville fans were worried that last year's doldrums and the coach's previous recruiting drought were products of the Sypher mess, rather than the usual year-after some elite programs go through from time to time, it's probably fair to dispel that notion. The 2009-10 Cardinals had a very good season during the midst of what was perhaps the most intense chapter of Pitino's Sypher story. Apparently the man can multitask.

(*The File, in case you didn't know, is a blog dedicated to using "public information requests, court filings, government data and reader-furnished material to go deeper into the stories that the sports world is talking about." Which sounds like an immediate bookmark/RSS feed to me.)