Its been 15 months since we first heard rumblings of Rick Pitino being extorted, and today seemingly marks the beginning of the end of this ordeal.
Karen Sypher's trial began today. She is being charged with three counts of extortion, two counts of lying to the FBI, and one count of retaliation on a witness. (Kentucky Sports Radio has a thorough breakdown of each side's opening argument argument.) The trial promises to be quite interesting (and x-rated), although it is far from an open-and-shut case:
(photo credit: Lexington Herald-Journal)
Sypher could win an acquittal — at least on the extortion charges — if she can convince the jury that she was wronged by Pitino on the night of Aug. 1, 2003, at Porcini Restaurant, and that her attempts to obtain compensation were justified.I'm not a legal expert. In fact, I find the nuances of legality -- the details that drive people to go to law school -- to be rather boring. Rick Pitino is not being charged with anything in this case, and the outcome itself is unlikely to effect his status as the head coach at Louisville. This case itself doesn't interest me much more than Lindsay Lohan's DUI trial.
"The defense will try to make it out to be a civil case — that Pitino harmed her, that she consulted an attorney (Kolter) and that he made a demand for her," said Louisville lawyer Mark Chandler, who defends white-collar crimes and drug cases.
Kristin Logan, another Louisville defense lawyer who specializes in white-collar crimes, said that when "an individual seeks out an attorney for help with a legal issue, one presumes that attorney will act within the bounds of law."
What does interest me, however, is the reaction to the case; specifically, that of the Louisville Cardinals fan base and the kids that Pitino is recruiting.
Its not a secret that Pitino is far and away the second most popular coach in the Commonwealth right now. John Calipari is leading Kentucky's program is on the way back to where it was in the mid-to-late 90's, while Louisville is looking more and more like a Conference USA team, not the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, which they were is 2009.
How long is a diehard fanbase like that of Louisville going to stand for mediocrity, considering the man leading the program has admitted to what Pitino has admitted to? Very few coaches would be able to survive having information like this become public knowledge. Is Pitino one of that minority?
He may not be.
It was widely publicized when Pitino lost Marquis Teague to Kentucky. It didn't make as many headlines, but Pitino also lost Michael Chandler this summer. What was one of the best 2011 recruiting classes has lost much of its luster.
Having said that, Pitino still has a chance to put together a great class. Wayne Blackshear, a 6'5" two guard and consensus top 20 recruit, has remained loyal to the Cardinals. He's landed landed commitments from Zach Price, a 6'8" center, and Ryan Taylor, a 6'6" small forward, who both make appearances on top 100 lists. A recruiting class with three top 100 players, including a guy that could very well be a McDonalds all-american, is by no means a terrible class, but it is far from as good as it seemed just three months ago.
Louisville is also still in the hunt for a number of high-profile recruits. Quincy Miller, a 6'8" small forward who could very well end up the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2011, is heavily involved with Louisville, as is high school teammate Deuce Bello, a high-flying 6'3" guard considered a top 50 recruit. The two could very well end up a package deal.
The Cards are also still heavily involved with Kentucky native Chane Behanan, one of the hottest recruits of the summer, and have an outside shot at landing a couple of other fairly well-known recruits -- Johnny O'Bryant, Jabarie Hinds, Jakarr Sampson, Remy Abell, Nick Johnson.
The bottom line is this: Pitino's ability as a coach has not changed, and likely will not change. The question is whether or not he is going to be able to land the talent, size, and athleticism necessary for his system to be effective. In other words, is he going to be able to go into the living of a recruit's parents and tell them, straight-faced, that he will be able to teach their son how to become a man?
Rick Pitino has enough pull that he will be able to land some recruits based on the fact that he is Rick Pitino. But continues to lose out on the Chandler's and the Teague's -- especially if they head to Kentucky instead -- how understanding is Louisville going to be?