The trial's over, but repairing Rick Pitino's image has just begun

Just because a jury found Karen Cunagin Sypher guilty of extortion and lying to the FBI on Thursday doesn't mean that Louisville coach Rick Pitino emerges from this fiasco as a winner.

In fact, we won't truly be able to evaluate how Pitino stands until we see how his tarnished image impacts his ability to recruit.

Despite a middling 2009-10 season, modest expectations for next year and the specter of John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats down the road, Pitino actually seemed to be on the verge of reeling in a fantastic class prior to the start of the trial. Elite shooting guard Wayne Blackshear had already committed to Louisville, while fellow top prospects Quincy Miller, Josiah Turner and Deuce Bello were all listing Louisville among their leaders.

The lingering question now is whether an adulterer whose sexual stamina has been ridiculed on national TV by Jay Leno can still sell his program to 17-year-old recruits and their parents. Getting back to winning at Louisville is the only way Pitino will put this scandal behind him, so that means an influx of new talent is an absolute must.

If Pitino keeps Blackshear and lands one or two other coveted high school seniors, it will be just what he needs to silence those who say the tawdry, embarrassing revelations from the trial have forever tarnished his image. If not, Louisville's downward trend will continue and the drumbeats calling for the school to cut ties with Pitino will grow louder.

The trial produced at least one significant victory for Pitino's reputation: Sypher's claim that he raped her looks more and more like nonsense. Her story always seemed to lack credibility, yet having a judge and jury back that up is important from the standpoint of public perception.

Although the trial has apparently rendered Pitino too radioactive to have a chance for a fresh start at another school or in the NBA, he can at least take some solace in the fact that top officials at Louisville appear to have his back. Athletic director Tom Jurich immediately went to work on rebuilding Pitino's reputation at a post-verdict news conference on Thursday, reiterating the school's support for its embattled coach.

"It was a personal matter that would not have been public had she not brought these false accusations against him," Jurich told reporters. "The way we looked at it, he was very remorseful for what happened, for putting his family and his wife through this, but he never once tried to make the university look bad. He has always had the greatest and best intentions for the University of Louisville, and he still will."

Good intentions may have saved Pitino's job in the short term, but good basketball is what is going to keep him employed.

Either he proves that he can still recruit despite his tarnished reputation, or his hall of fame coaching career will end on a sour note.

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