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Posted: Thursday October 8, 2009 3:32PM; Updated: Friday October 9, 2009 1:07AM

Pitino says he's having one of the best years of his life

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Rick Pitino spoke at the Cardinal's annual tip-off luncheon

The Louisville coach urged the fans not to become critics or negative

The luncheon drew a sell-out crowd of more than 1,100

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Rick Pitino insists that he's having one of the best years of his life.

From the outside looking in, though, things may not look so rosy.

There's the matter of a pending federal case against Karen Cunagin Sypher, who is charged with attempting to extort $10 million from him. Pitino, in August, admitted to and apologized for a sexual encounter with Sypher that happened six years ago.

On the court, the Cardinals have fallen short of the Final Four by a game in each of the previous two seasons. After last season, the team lost its best passers, rebounders and defenders, including Earl Clark and Terrence Williams -- both NBA lottery picks. The Cardinals have been picked to finish sixth in the Big East just a year after winning the regular season and conference titles.

But the coach used the team's annual tip-off luncheon Thursday to deliver a speech that might have fit just as well at the recent motivational seminar in Louisville when he shared the stage with speakers like Laura Bush and Rudy Giuliani.

The coach did not specifically mention the Sypher situation but charged fans to focus on the positive, despite the fact that he was obviously -- by the standing ovation he received after his introduction -- among supporters.

"Don't succumb to being a critic," he said. "Don't become part of that negative environment that just knocks and constantly says things that tear things down. Build things up. That's what positive people do."

The team begins practice in a week and that puts Pitino back where he's comfortable.

"I am totally focused right now, as I am every basketball season," he said.

With the low expectations, and holes to fill on the team, it's in those types of situations when overachievers act, Pitino said. A run deep into the NCAA tournament is possible again in the upcoming season, he added.

"How does our team duplicate what they did last year and maybe go a step further?" he said, seeming to talk to his players as much as the Cardinal faithful at the Louisville Marriott Downtown.

"They're a hungry group," he said. "They're very humble. By far, this is the closest group I've had here at the University of Louisville. It starts because our freshmen are so humble. It starts because our captains (seniors Jerry Smith and Edgar Sosa) are so willing to lead."

Pitino says all that will translate to success when their season starts against Arkansas on Nov. 17.

"Come first game of the season, we'll show our fans and show the country what we're all about," he said.

Pitino prescribed a combination of humility and improved work ethic for his players to succeed despite the losses to their roster.

Pitino introduced each of his players, handed out rings to commemorate last season's Big East championship, and gave the players a chance to speak to the crowd. Most kept it to a sentence or two and finished with, "Go Cards."

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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