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Long-distance conversation: Pitino says he’s talked 3s with Bradbury

Lobos head coach Richard Pitino is shown working out with Rod Brown in April. Pitino’s current UNM team and his Minnesota team last year struggled shooting the 3. One team that didn’t? The UNM women, and Pitino has made a note of that. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

When Richard Pitino wants to pick somebody’s brain about basketball, his access to the who’s who of the sport’s top coaches is pretty extensive.

So imagine all the people he can check in with as he tries to figure out how to fix the University of New Mexico men’s 3-point shooting struggles from a year ago — something his Minnesota team last year was frankly not very good at, either.

Then again, he also knows a good thing when he sees it down the hall.

Mike Bradbury’s UNM Lobos women’s team this past season averaged 10.2 3-pointers per game — good for fourth-most in the country — and won the Mountain West championship as a result.

“I’ve talked to Mike Bradbury, you know, over on the women’s side,” Pitino said when asked about the importance of the 3-point shot to what he wants to run with the Lobos men’s team. “Just the way they shoot the 3 — it’s a huge part of it.”

Minnesota in the 2020-21 season hit 7.1 3-pointers per game and did so while shooting at just a 28.4% clip, which ranked 334th out of 340 Division I men’s teams.

Even worse was the Lobos team he’s taking over that averaged just 4.8 3s per game at a 27.5% clip, ranking 337th out of those 340 teams.

It’s something that, clearly, he hopes to improve by leaps and bounds, and that started with the recruiting process in the offseason and the emphasis on it this summer for all players.

“I think obviously last year, they didn’t shoot the ball great,” Pitino said of the Lobos. “My team in Minnesota didn’t shoot the ball great. So, it’s not to say that I’m the shot doctor or anything. But you have to be able to shoot the ball. I would love five guys — even my ‘5′ man (center) — to be able to knock down the 3. It’s such an important part of the game.”

ONE MORE ON KING: Wednesday, news broke that 6-foot-7 prep recruit Jamel King would not be joining the Lobos as UNM released him from his letter of intent. Pitino did not elaborate on specifics, just wishing King well wherever he plays.

The Journal reached out to King for comment, but did not hear back.

Thursday, King posted an update on social media, thanking Lobo fans for their support and adding: “I believe when God closes the door to one opportunity, he will bless and open the door for new opportunities.”

He then wrote he “decided to decommit from the University of New Mexico and open my recruitment.”

BOOK IT: While Pitino is a believer in the much more modern approach to basketball that less is more on the court, the players showing up this week still will be getting a physical playbook to review what the team’s basic concepts and schemes are.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a huge one.

“We do have a playbook,” Pitino said, “(But) the better teams I’ve had, the less sets we run. I’ve always found the more plays you’re running, you’re overthinking it as a coach. From an offensive standpoint, my goal would be that they can flow into some continuities to where you’re running three or four different things … you’re going to play freely. That’s the goal.”

NBA THOUGHTS: Pitino noted some film study for the team from time to time might be something he sees in an NBA playoff game.

That reference, naturally, brought on a question about who he’s picking to win the NBA Playoffs.

“The (Brooklyn) Nets,” he said. “I think the Nets are going to win at all. It just always seems like the cream rises to the top, and it just seems like the NBA when you got the three (superstars) — I think you need three in the NBA, right? I don’t I don’t know if you can do it with two. And they’ve got three superstars now.”

Predictions aside, who is the favorite NBA team of the man who was born in Boston and spent some of his formative years with his dad when Rick Pitino was coaching the Boston Celtics?

“I’m more of a Knicks guy,” Richard Pitino said with a grin. “The Boston Celtics thing didn’t end well on the Pitino family.”

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