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Teague lauds Pitino's work ethic

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University of Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague says his excitement over new men's basketball coach Richard Pitino has only increased after watching him work over the last two and a half months.

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Teague didn't hide the fact that he wanted a relentless recruiter when looking for Tubby Smith's replacement. Since taking the job, Pitino has proven to be just that as he has signed four players in a short amount of time and is working hard to land some top-100 recruits from Minnesota and across the country in 2014.

"He's exceeded expectations," Teague said. "Not only him but his staff, as well. They're really connected. They have great relationships that are already established, whether it be with AAU coaches or whether it be with high school coaches or just people that are important in the recruiting scene around the country. They're just very well connected, very well respected, incredibly likable. They're doing a great job."

That's why Teague is more excited than ever about the future of this program. He was along on the Alexandria stop during the second leg of the Gophers Road Trip on Monday night. Fans packed tables outside the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum to listen to Pitino and six other University of Minnesota coaches talk about their programs.

"I feel it, and I see it, and I hear it," Teague said of fan excitement over Pitino. "I think they should be. Gosh, if you saw him work every day you really would be. How they manage the program and how they're recruiting, how they're dealing with the current kids, it's really going well. We have a really bright future. Now, that's not to say that he doesn't have to do a little bit of rebuilding in the interim, but I'm really pleased with the way things are going."

Pitino has already started to put his stamp on the program with the guys he signed for the 2013 recruiting class. Guards Deandre Mathieu, Daquein McNeil and Malik Smith join former Eastview forward Joey King as newcomers to the team for next year.

It's a group that will add some experience, while leaving Pitino with plenty of scholarships to use in 2014 and beyond. McNeil will be the only true freshman out of that group. Pitino got Mathieu out of the junior college ranks after he earned NJCAA first-team All-American honors at Central Arizona College. King transferred after his freshman year at Drake University and Smith will be a senior after averaging 14.1 points for Florida International last season.

"I think they've done everything they can to bring in some talent to fill some holes," Teague said. "But I think they've also been smart, and that is, not use scholarships that you don't want to use. I think they've done a great balancing act."

Guard Joe Coleman is the only player who decided to transfer out of the Gophers' program since Pitino's hire. Teague said the other players who were there under Tubby Smith have been very receptive to this new coaching staff.

"It's really been that way from the start," he said. "I was in communication with them a lot during the process of searching for a coach. Once he got here, you could just tell right away by the body language. I've been in other situations, when Shaka Smart was hired (at Virginia Commonwealth University), it was much different. We lost a great coach and Shaka was very young like Richard. They were very doubtful early on. They were really unhappy that Anthony Grant had left for Alabama, but this with Richard coming here was really different."

Teague hopes fans are patient after the team lost some good post players in Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams to graduation. Pitino may need some time to get his own recruits and implement his system, but Teague is more confident than ever that he found the right guy to help this program take the next step.

"You make decisions in your life and the best decisions you make are the ones you feel are validated after you do it," he said. "That's been the case here. Every day, I feel better about it."

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Eric Morken
Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.
(320) 763-1229
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