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Pitino draws interest from Tennessee basketball fans

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Gophers men's basketball coach Richard Pitino is continuing to draw interest from the University of Tennessee, well at least Volunteer fans.

As Tennessee searches for its next men's basketball coach, a poll of Volunteer fans, conducted by the Knoxville News Sentinel, found nine percent favored Pitino when he was put up against a long list of potential candidates.

That was third on the list of potential candidates. Wichita State's Gregg Marshall topped the poll, he was preferred by 35 percent of Volunteer fans, while VCU's Shaka Smart was the favorite of 16 percent.

Both Pitino and Donnie Tyndall of Southern Miss received nine percent, only a few votes separated them.

ESPN's Jeff Goodman reported on Wednesday that Pitino was on the "short list" of potential candidates for replacing Cuonzo Martin, who left to become the next men's basketball coach at the University of California.

U of M Athletic Director Norwood Teague said Wednesday that Pitino is happy in Minnesota and isn't interested in the Tennessee job.

Pitino led the Gophers to a school-record 25 wins and the NIT Championship. But Minnesota was just 8-10 in the rugged Big Ten. Still, Pitino wrote that he felt the team met expectations, in his first season.

Despite Teague's insistence that Pitino isn't interested, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports he may be more realistic than either Smart or Marshall. According to the report, Tennessee could offer Pitino more than his $1.2 million per year salary and his $1.5 million contract buyout would mostly be covered by the $1.3 million Tennessee will receive from Cal for hiring Martin.

Pitino hasn't expressed any direct interest in the job either publicly.

But as the Star Tribune's Amelia Rayno writes:

These days, though, after watching the Shaka Smarts and Brad Stevens of the world excel quickly and consistently, rising stars are very attractive. Pitino's "stock" could certainly go up in the next few years. But pitted against an annually tough Big Ten slate, it could also go down.

The message to Gopher fans is that if he is able to have success here, this is something they should probably get used to.

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