Despite the ever increasing length of the basketball season — and we both thank Naismithius, the Hoops Deity for that — we meet more often than not when it’s out of season. Like this past Tuesday, the day before The Rick did a meet and greet with the press for a team update.
Bruce is always at mid-season excitement level, whatever the time of year. I will advise him “not to peak too early.” If we lunch in, say, mid February, he’ll ask, “Is it too early to peak now?”
Which I advise as a prelude to my admission that I feel a bit more pumped about U of L hoops than I know I ought to be this time of year.
* * * * *
I have a theory about next season’s team, which, reading between the lines, making assumptions from peripheral comments, I have extrapolated that Coach Pitino might also believe.
That theory is this. As the ’13 national champs were Peyton Siva’s team, despite Luke Hancock’s MOP Final Four and Russ Smith’s All-American campaign, this coming year, the Cardinals will be Terry Rozier’s team. Despite the presence of Silent L, and the expected emergence of The Real Wayne.
Yesterday, during his snippets about each player, Pitino advised Rozier is poised for a “breakout year.”
Well and good.
He later said something else which indicated just how good a year he believes TR is capable of. When speaking of recruiting, The Rick mentioned three available schollys for ’14, but a possible fourth, indicating Rozier might have the kind of season which would launch him into the NBA draft.
Thus I now believe more firmly than ever — even though it’s early July, and, yes, Bruce, way too early to peak — that next year’s Cardinals shall be Terry Rozier’s team.
* * * * *
As for Wayne Blackshear, well, if you’ve paid attention here, you know I’ve never been down on the kid. Like many Louisville fans have.
Of course, he hasn’t met the expectations that come with a Golden Arches AA, but it’s not like he’s a loser.
Last season, he hit 40% of his threes, and three of every 4 FTs, averaging 8.2 ppg.
More important, he came up huge in the title game W over Michigan, scoring the first points in both halves, making the pass that led to the Siva assist on Harrell’s monster jam which completed the Cards’ 1st half rally. And played D with such intensity, he had to be given a blow, so spent was he.1
I also have a theory about Blackshear. Some might call it “hope,” but I’m sticking to my guns. Theory it shall be.
That he’s going to have the same quantum leap as a senior as two former Cardinals, who were pivotal figures on national championship teams.
Those fellows would be Darrell Griffith, who, people oft forget, was far better his senior year than before, despite his “legendary” four year stint. And Billy Thompson, who, until that stellar run to the ’86 crown, was the object of many Cardinal fans’ enmity.
Pitino confirmed yesterday that Blackshear’s been a different guy this off season.
Second theory confirmed. Well, at least so far, since, well, you know, games won’t be played for four months.
* * * * *
All the Cardinals are on campus, but for two rookies.
Matz Stockman is enrolled, but waiting for his visa, so he can make it into the country.
Jaylen Johnson will be eligible, but U of L is waiting on required school records, which have been slow to come.
Pitino gave a quick update for each of his newcomers, but it was hard to decipher since he was referring to Q, Nanu and Anas.
Can’t match the nicknames to players without a program.
The details are of little consequence at this stage. What does matter is the coach seems seriously excited by the future.
He intends to continue to recruit foreign kids.2
“They know how to pass the ball.”
* * * * *
Several folks have wondered aloud how Louisville will cope with Russ gone?
Uh, just fine.
In the same way U of L survived the graduation of Grif and Unseld and Junior. Kids come, they play, they move on. It’s the nature of the beast.
I believe, as much as we love(d) Russ Smith, and, make no mistake, he’s as beloved as any Cardinal baller ever, the team could/should be better without him.
Pitino: “The ball is going to move more.”
Smith was such an X factor — a positive one overall, bottom line. Teammates never knew what might happen when he got the ball. Thus, tended to react. Sometimes the offense stagnated, while the others on the court awaited Smith’s next move with the ball.
* * * * *
By all accounts, stealing assistant Kenny Johnson from Tom Crean at IU was a major move.
I wondered when it was announced, noting Johnson’s corpulence, how he’d fit in with Pitino’s requirement that his staff be in shape?3
It was no surprise then when the coach announced yesterday that Johnson has lost 65 pounds . . . since April. And that his goal was to drop 100 pounds total.
More important, on the court, Chris Jones is finally down to the weight Pitino desires. Improving his game, especially his quickness.
“He destroyed everybody today in practice.”
* * * * *
Yesterday afternoon, as the enthralling World Cup semi between Argentina and Netherlands was nearing the end, the phone rang.
Normally I wouldn’t have picked up, given the action on the pitch.
But, it was Bruce,
I knew what he wanted. What he needed.
An info fix. Something to hold him during the summer off season.
— Seedy K