LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -The meeting was running long, as tends to happen when Louisville coach Rick Pitino and his staff get together.
A quick look at the clock told Pitino it was 8:07 a.m., meaning he was late for individual workouts with a handful of players. Pitino hustled down to the main court at the team's practice facility and stopped when he got to the door, hearing something he didn't expect: basketballs hitting the floor as senior guard Jerry Smith led his teammates in drills.
``I didn't quite believe it,'' Pitino said. ``It's the first time in my coaching career that's ever happened.''
Pitino's players aren't the only ones eager to move forward.
The only men's coach to lead three different programs to the Final Four returns for his ninth year at Louisville following the most tumultuous six months of his successful career, a period in which he made headlines for admitting to a sexual encounter six years ago with a woman later charged with trying to extort millions from him.
married father of five into an uncomfortable spotlight. Karen Cunagin Sypher said she became pregnant after the encounter and Pitino paid her $3,000 for an abortion; he said the money was for health insurance.
He came forward in August to apologize and reaffirm his commitment to the Cardinals, which was soon followed up with an emotionally charged press conference in which he chastised the media for coverage of the scandal.
The federal case against Sypher remains in limbo and Pitino is trying to focus on his team, which has major holes to fill after winning the Big East championship and advancing to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
Do-everything forwards Terrence Williams and Earl Clark are now in the NBA, meaning the Cardinals will have to rely more on mercurial point guard Edgar Sosa to run an offense long on options but short on leadership.
M in the NCAA tournament that season, a performance he's been trying to match since.
Ultimately the game may have done more harm than good. Sosa admits he got so caught up on becoming a superstar he didn't just go out and make plays.
in front of you and he makes you face adversity to see how you are going to react and I reacted poorly,'' Sosa said. ``I think if I ever come across adversity again I will be able to deal with it much better.''
He'll have to after two years in which his confidence was prone to violent swings depending on how well he was shooting.
At one point last year Pitino sat him down and suggested it may be better for Sosa to transfer. He opted to stay, then hit the game-winning 3-pointer against Kentucky two days later. Yet the rest of the season as more of the same, good games followed by bad ones and Sosa often found himself on the bench late in close games as Pitino went with Andre McGee, a better defender.
McGee, like Clark and Williams is gone. Sosa knows it's his time.
``When Coach P says this is going to be my year, he doesn't mean I'm going to put up big numbers,'' Sosa said. ``He just knows that I know how important it is to bring it everyday.''
If Sosa can't find the consistency Pitino will need for the Cardinals to compete in one of the nation's toughest conferences, the coach can go to freshman Peyton Siva.
Pitino hopes it doesn't come to that. Neither does Sosa, who isn't the only player hoping to deliver on his promise.
ile Samuels played well - averaging 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds - he struggled against bigger opponents and was prone to foul trouble. By the end of the year he was competing with Terrence Jennings for playing time.
Samuels spent the summer playing for the Jamaican national team in the Caribbean Games and eating boiled chicken without his beloved jerk sauce to drop 15 pounds. He's at around 260, a number he hopes makes him more explosive around the basket after Pitino complained the 6-foot-9 Samuels spent too much time playing under the rim.
``I got my stuff blocked too much,'' Samuels said with a laugh. ``That's not what you want. I know I've got to get better.''
It's a sentiment echoed by his teammates. There's a decided lack of swagger at Louisville despite two straight years of deep NCAA tournament runs.
The team's recent media day was sparsely attended, unlike the frenzy at the unveiling of Kentucky's revamped program under new coach John Calipari.
``We are kind of under the radar and I like it that way,'' Smith said.
So does Pitino, who demurred when asked about the reception Calipari has received in Lexington, something Pitino - who led the Wildcats to the 1996 national title - would know about.
``I'm here to talk about Louisville basketball,'' he said.
And, he hopes, nothing else.

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