Now that U of L has whooped up on Scotty Davenport’s solid but eminently DII Bellarmine Knights, it’s time to assess the possibilities and probabilities for the ’14-’15 edition of the University of Louisville hoop squad. (With a contemplation of the Knights also down below.)
At this juncture, as it comes before each season begins, it is always important that I remember one important thing.
Do not misunderestimate Rick Pitino.
It took U of L’s second Hall of Fame coach in a row awhile to get his mojo woikin’ here, but things started falling in place, when he tweaked his recruiting focus, and moved beyond some personal situations.
TWill was a plane crash waiting to happen. But his presence begat Peyton Siva. The loss of big recruiting target Fab Melo begat a consolation prize named Gorgui Dieng. Luke Hancock with his steely resolve transferred in.
Along with the evolution of Pitino’s mo’ betta take on the current college game came the success of recent seasons. That elusive third national crown. Another out of the blue Final Four in ugly orange unis. Etc, etc.
Which I mention because the success quotient for this season’s squad is far from a given.This summer, while contemplating the potential of this year’s team, as I am wont to do way too far in advance of the opener, I came to the conclusion that U of L would be a “stealth national contender.”
Now I’m not so sure.
That theory was based on the belief that the incoming stellar crop of rookies would provide some needed and immediate reserve for a righteous starting five.
Then Jaylen Johnson was forced to come in late and play serious catch up. Shaqquan Aaron is not only frail, due to an illness, but not yet eligible. Quentin Snider still plays without swagger. Etc, etc. Chinanu Onuaku is the only freshman already serviceable.
But that’s not the only reason to take a step back and wonder how good this team might eventually become?
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Montrezl Harrell is an unbelievable athlete. In certain areas, his talent is, as we are inclined to say, “off the charts.” He’s a pre-season All-American. Some have projected him as POY.
And he’s all that. Legit. Maybe.
What he is not, one guy’s opinion, is an offensive centerpiece. He is not a creator. He rebounds. He plays huge underneath. He disrupts on defense. He energizes with his propensity for monster slams and putbacks. He is attempting to be a team leader.
Yet, I’m skeptical. If he averages three trey attempts per game — that’s how many he hoisted yesterday afternoon against the Knights, hitting one — it would not be a good thing. My take. Unless, he morphs into, you know, a Klay Thompson or Kyle Korver. But that’s doubtful.
At the game yesterday, I sat next to Pinky Gardner, long time coach and b-ball junkie. Who, after one of those threes, observed, “He needs to get his butt underneath the basket.”
So, I say, one factor in Louisville’s success will be how Silent L plays. Will he let the games come to him? Or, will he feel the need to impress pro scouts, who shall be ever present this season at the Yum!?
In this regard, I can’t help but remember the senior season of Taquan Dean. In his first three seasons, when he was, at best, second, third or fourth banana, he was incredibly effective. I stand by my belief that he made more big shots, game winning hoops at crunch time, than any Cardinal ever.
But, he was essentially only a catch and shoot marvel. He wasn’t great off the dribble, or taking the ball to the hoop. His senior year, he became the centerpiece, and indeed led the team in scoring at 17+/ game. But tried to do too much, tried to perform tasks that were beyond his comfort zone. That ’05-’06 team finished with 13 Ls, in the NIT.
Similarly, a great aspect of this year’s success depends on Harrell’s game.
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So too, that of Chris Jones.
He has a point guard’s body and talent. He has a scorer’s mentality, a belief that he can git ‘er done in any situation. I daresay, if the the ball’s in his hands with the clock ticking down, and the Cards need a score, he’s going to take the shot whether it’s the one The Rick wants or not.
Is Jones going to play the year as if he’s constantly getting in touch with his inner Russ Smith? To feed the belief that he needs to make the play instead of trusting teammates?
One play yesterday was endemic.
He had the ball on a two on one break with Wayne Blackshear to his left. The Knight defender committed to Jones. Who then, on an admittedly nifty move, put the ball behind his back as if to pass, pulled it back and laid it in for the deuce.
Cool. Crowd pleasing. Except that Blackshear was wide open. Getting the ball to him was the play to make.
How Jones develops within the framework of team play shall be a second factor in how good the Cards become.
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No need to raise your hands, you’ve heard this before.
Successful teams make their free throws.
Yesterday, the Cards hit but 15 of 25.
60% is not acceptable. 66% at the charity stripe for the year might have worked last season with its ridiculously underwhelming pre-conference schedule and the level of play in the AAC. But it ain’t gonna cut it in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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Then, there’s that rookie thing. As questioned above, who among the newcomers is going to be reliable? Going to be consistent? Going to provide valuable relief to the starters?
It is here that I again remember what I said about doubting Rick Pitino’s proven ability to know how to coach excellently at the highest level of the game.
Asked yesterday about Anas Mahmoud, whom I think is going to be stellar if not this year but in years to come, The Rick responded in that kind of dismissive less than nurturing manner of his.
“I don’t think he understands our culture.”
He said it twice.
Snider. Onuaku. Mahmoud. Johnson. Hopefully Aaron. Who among you is ready to grab your opportunity by the short and curlies?
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As for Bellarmine, well, Scotty’s Knights never had a shot yesterday.
Patrick McSweeeney’s follow was the only easy bucket they got all day.
Because they were so very overmatched, it’s impossible to extrapolate anything from yesterday’s performance. Other than, as Davenport’s teams always do, they never stopped running that exemplary, beauteous to watch motion offense.
I had a chat with Jerry Jones, Denny Crum’s long time assistant. He says he goes to Bellarmine’s practices about every day. He thinks this team can be as good as the Knights’ national champs of a few seasons back.
I sure hope he’s right. Jones is a far more astute observer of the game than I’ll ever be.
Playing Richard Pitino’s Minnesota Golden Gophers in the season opener this coming Friday has ratcheted up Pitino the Elder’s focus. For Bellarmine, it was not a good thing. The Norris Place gang never had a chance.
The Knight’s look to have great opportunity this season . . . at the DII level. The Cardinals blasted the Knights early and they were never in it.
U of L led by 29 at the half. It wasn’t that close.
Bellarmine outscored Louisville after intermission. There was a huge drop off in the quality of play for the Cards when the starter were sitting.
Sixth man Anton Gill was 2/10 from the field, 1/8 beyond the arc. Jaylen Johnson got four boards, but committed three fouls in only six minutes of action. Q appeared less skittish, more confident. He tallied 8, but only had a single assist. Akoy Agau added nothing.
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The biggest upset of the day came when the crowd chose it’s favorite “night” song among three contendas. The Beatles’ “Hard Days Night” and John Mellencamp’s version of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” were bested by The Kinks way rockin’ “All Day and All of the Night.”
Damn fine choice for a Sunday afternoon crowd.
The song rips. Check it out:
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Let the regular season commence.
Bellarmine opens Friday at Northwood. For U of L, come that same evening, is the much anticipated national TV hook up of Pitino the Elder vs. Pitino the Younger.
Let’s rock, it’s hoops season all day and all of the night.
— Seedy K