MILWAUKEE — Rick Pitino wanted to set the record straight about his son, Richard, and the succession plan he talked about after Tuesday’s win over DePaul.
“I was kidding,” he said.
Asked about the DePaul opening and rumors that Richard, currently the head coach of No. 25 New Mexico, could be in line for the job, Pitino said he wanted him to stay with the Lobos and eventually take over for him at St. John’s. But it was all in jest.
“I’m on a [text message group chat] with my whole family and two other people, and they were all kidding about that,” Pitino said.
The 41-year-old Richard is having a big year at New Mexico.
The Lobos are a projected NCAA Tournament team.
New Mexico won 22 games and reached the NIT last year in Richard’s third season as its head coach.
Previously, he was the head coach at Minnesota for eight seasons and worked under his father at Louisville from 2007-09 and 2011-12.
“Richard is one of the bright minds in the game today. He’s a great coach, he’s a great communicator,” the elder Pitino said.
Pitino wants to make one change starting Saturday: fewer minutes for Chris Ledlum and more for Zuby Ejiofor.
Pitino feels that Ledlum is tiring out late in games and wants to get him down to 25 minutes.
He’s averaging 28.9 on the season and has logged at least 30 in six of the team’s 11 Big East contests. That means more minutes for RJ Luis and Drissa Traore.
As for Ejiofor, Joel Soriano’s backup, his play has improved as the year has gone on, particularly on the defensive end.
“We’ve got to get Zuby to play anywhere from 12 to 16 minutes per game, especially since Joel has not played as dominant as he was in the beginning of the year,” Pitino said. “It’s time to do that.”
The plan is to make Ejiofor into a big man who can play both the center and power forward spots in the offseason.
But his ball handling, overall offensive skill set and comfort level at the four aren’t to the point where he can do it yet, which is why Pitino hasn’t tried to play him and Soriano together at all.