CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The questions would come, with or without Rick Pitino, so Louisville seniors Trey Lewis and Damion Lee did their best to avoid discussing allegations surrounding the program at ACC basketball media day on Wednesday.
Amid an NCAA investigation into allegations that a former assistant coach hired escorts to entertain recruits, Pitino decided to skip out on the media session at the Ritz Carlton in Charlotte, leaving Lewis and Lee — both fifth-year transfers new to Louisville this season — to answer for him.
“He’s not one to bite his tongue, and he knows if he was here, he speaks his mind and speaks from his heart,” Lewis said. “He was advised not to be here because he couldn’t speak about these matters, but he wants to talk.”
ACC commissioner John Swofford made an exception for Pitino’s absence on Wednesday. Generally, Swofford said, it’s mandatory for coaches to attend media day.
“We did not feel it appropriate to try to negate legal counsel advice that’s been given to the University of Louisville,” Swofford said. “We had discussions. Louisville knows that our strong preference is that all coaches be here, but these are extenuating circumstances.”
Instead, a parade of reporters followed Lewis and Lee into their interview session, but the players largely avoided questions specific to the investigation, which included a visit by the NCAA to Louisville’s campus earlier this week.
“I came to Louisville to play for Coach Pitino and have a chance to play for a national championship. Nothing’s been taken away from me,” Lewis said. “Yeah, I didn’t come here for all this, but when you’re on a big stage like this, it’s what you sign up for.”
Lewis took time to snap photos to post to Instagram, but he quickly downplayed the amount of time he’s spent on social media since the scandal broke. Both players insisted the controversy swirling outside the locker room has only strengthened the resolve inside it.
Lewis said Pitino specifically advised the players to answer questions honestly, but there was little direct information either could provide.
Lewis is a graduate transfer from Cleveland State, and Lee transferred this year from Drexel. Neither was recruited by former Pitino assistant Andre McGee, who was accused of hiring escorts to entertain recruits during campus visits.
“Nothing that happened in the past has to do with me,” Lee said. “I’m here for the guys I suit up with.”
Swofford, meanwhile, said he’ll wait to see how the allegations play out.
“What has been alleged has absolutely no place in college athletics in any way, shape or form,” Swofford said. “There are multiple investigations going on to try to get to the truth of this issue. … I think the fair thing to do is to see how it plays out.”
While Pitino is avoiding the media scrutiny, the coach hasn’t appeared rattled when dealing with the team, Lewis said.
“If it’s affecting him, he has a great way of hiding it, because you can’t tell,” Lewis said. “I can say nothing about Coach but how willing I am to go to war for him now, seeing what he’s been through and how he’s handled it. I couldn’t imagine being in his position and still be so positive and upbeat.”