Louisville Card File: Pitino’s Summer Progress Report

dunikcardMy fellow Cardinal fan Bruce and I have a running joke, which we invoke when we meet periodically for lunch.

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.

No more.

* * * * *

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


6 thoughts on “Louisville Card File: Pitino’s Summer Progress Report

  1. as you will recall Billy “World” T was actually booed at home mid season in a home game vs LaSalle, and it reaaly wasn’t until the tourney, particularly his remakable performance against the Tar Heels in Houston that he fullfilled the lofty expectations of his Camden career.
    Maybe we will be gifted with “Wayne’s World” clearly a more modest version of the McD’s credentials of BT.

  2. I think I generally speak for all Card fans that we all love Wayne. I doubt we have ever been able to see even a glimmer of what the MickeyD AA is all about—yet. But I have a nagging feeling that for whatever reason it is, WB will always be in foul trouble and thus will have a hard time being the “guy”.

    I am not sure why he is always victimized, but I can’t get out of my head the “blocking foul” he took against Randall last year at Rupp when we were blowing them out early. Awful call—no way you can justify it. But for 3 years now, every 50-50 call (and even some 99-1 calls like that one) have gone against WB.

    For that reason, our group calls him Wayne Foulshear Unless WB can play with the freedom and confidence that comes with knowing he won’t be blown up by the refs if he ever tries to do anything, I fear he will always languish behind his talented teammates. Let’s hope he gets past that and can play with some confidence in his abilities—or hope that Shaq A is all that….

  3. Wayne had better change his shot selection. In three years way over 50% of his shot attempts have been three’s. That won’t cut it this year.

  4. For those old enough to remember, Griff’s spectacular senior year began earlier the same year when he was taken to the woodshed and embarrassed by Sidney Moncrief against Arkansas in the NCAA Regionals. A summer in the gym ensued and a national championship was the result. I don’t know if Wayne has that kind of potential but Dr.Dunkenstein was a similarly talented underachiever. Let’s hope Wayne doesn’t peak too soon.

  5. I think I can speak with all Cardinal fans, when I say: Wayne has not peaked too soon.

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