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Looking Back: The 2003 Recruiting Class


Next week, the first session of July’s live recruiting period will begin, and high school hoopers around the country will take their talents to tournaments across the country, looking to impress coaches enough to earn a spot on a team at some level.

Those that are good enough will be playing for a scholarship. The best of the best will have a spot in all of the top 100 recruiting rankings on the line.

Over the course of this week, we will be looking back at the RSCI — a composite index for top 100 lists — to reinforce a point: recruiting rankings are not a guarantee. Top ten recruits flame out and unranked players make the NBA. The only thing that is a given is that hard work will be talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

Keep that in mind while tracking where a kid is ranked and who is recruiting him.

We’ll be looking at the Class of 1999-2008, the last 10 classes that have finished the five years they are allowed to use their four seasons of eligibility.

To read through the rest of our Looking Back posts, click here.


1. LeBron James: Duh.

2. Luol Deng: The Dengs are Sudanese basketball royalty, and Luol is the best of the bunch. After one season at Duke where he averaged 15.1 points and helped Duke to the Final Four, Deng was the seventh pick in the 2004 Draft. He’s spent his entire career in Chicago, making the all-star game each of the past two seasons.

3. Shannon Brown: Brown ended up enrolling at Michigan State, where he played for three seasons. After a junior year where he averaged 17.2 points, Brown entered the draft and went 25th to Cleveland. In the NBA, Brown bounced around for a couple of seasons before breaking out with the Lakers in the 2009 playoffs. He’s been a double-figure scorer with the Lakers and the Suns since then.

4. Ndudi Ebi: Ebi was one of the guys that ushered in the one-and-done era. He skipped college and went pro, getting picked 26th by Minnesota in the 2003 Draft. He played 19 games in two seasons, spent a year in the D-League and has been overseas ever since.

5. Kendrick Perkins: Perkins was supposed to be a package deal to Memphis with high school teammate Keena Young, but he went pro instead, getting picked 27th by the Grizzlies in 2003. Perkins has carved out a lucrative career as a paint enforcer without a postgame. He won a ring with Boston in 2008 and is now playing with Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City.

6. Chris Paul: Paul was an all-american at Wake Forest and has gone on to be one of the best point guards in the NBA.

7. Brian Butch: Butch redshirted his first season, but never quite developed into the player he was expected to be. He eventually would up averaging 12.4 points and 6.6 boards as a senior, but went undrafted. He’s been with the same D-League team since 2009.

7. David Padgett: Padgett spent his freshman season at Kansas before transferring to Louisville. With the Cardinals, Padgett never put up huge numbers, but he developed into arguably the Cardinals most important piece. He went undrafted and went into coaching after two years of pro ball. He’s currently on staff at IUPUI.

9. Leon Powe: Powe overcame a tough upbringing to make it to Cal, where he played two seasons, which sandwiched a year he took off because of a knee injury. Powe was the 49th pick in the 2006 Draft and had a successful start to his career in Boston, but blew out his knee again after the 2009 season. He’s been out of the league since 2011.

10. Kris Humphries: I could try to tell you Humphries was the 14th pick in the 2004 Draft after one season at Minnesota, and that he became a consistent double-double threat with the Nets the last could of years, but we all know that he’s the dude that Kanye stole Kim from.

11. Von Wafer: After two seasons at Florida State, Wafer has been an NBA journeyman since getting picked 39th in the 2005 Draft. He’s played for seven NBA teams and a trio of teams abroad.

12. Brandon Bass: Bass played two seasons at LSU before going pro, averaging 17.3 points and 9.1 boards as a sophomore. He was the 33rd pick in the 2005 Draft, and has carved out a career for himself as a hard-working, scrappy power forward. He’s played for Dallas, Orlando and, most recently, Boston.

13. Olu Famutimi: Famutimi played for two seasons at Arkansas before questionably entering the 2005 NBA Draft. He wasn’t picked, and has played in Turkey, France and Germany since.

14. J.R. Giddens: Giddens began his career at Kansas, but a stabbing incident forced a transfer to New Mexico after two seasons with the Jayhawks. He was eventually picked with the last pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA Draft, but lasted just two seasons in the NBA.

14. Linas Kleiza: The native of Lithuania played at Missouri and entered the draft after two seasons. He went 27th, and played well earlier in his career with Denver. After one season in Greece, he came back and has been with Toronto since then.

14. Travis Outlaw: Outlaw never went to college, but he’s managed to carve out a nice career for himself since being the 23rd pick in the 2003 Draft. He played with Portland until 2010, which included a couple of big seasons in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. He’s played with the Clippers, Nets and Kings since then.

17. Mike Jones: Jones had a decent four-year career at Maryland. He never quite lived up to his potential, but he averaged 13.5 points as a senior. He never played in the NBA.

18. Charlie Villanueva: Villanueva played two seasons at UConn, which included a national title in 2004, before he went pro. He was the seventh pick in the 2005 Draft and had one really good season in Milwaukee that earned him a bigger contract with Detroit. He’s been in the league since, but hasn’t done much worth mentioning.

19. Trevor Ariza: Ariza played one season at UCLA before going pro. He was the 43rd pick, but has managed to put together a solid NBA career. His best season came in 2009-2010, when he averaged 14.9 points with Houston.

20. James Lang: Lang never went to college and was the 48th pick of the 2003 Draft. He played all of 11 games in the NBA, and bounced around the D-League and NBA training camp roster before suffering a stroke in 2009 that left him partially paralyzed.


  • 25. Mustafa Shakur
  • 29. Chris Taft
  • 30. Jackie Butler
  • 32. Aaron Brooks
  • 39. Ronnie Brewer
  • 39. Gary Forbes
  • 41. Marcus Williams
  • 42. Terrence Roberts
  • 43. Chris Richard
  • 45. Will Sheridan
  • 52. Courtney Sims
  • 54. Cartier Martin
  • 64. Dorell Wright
  • 66. Paul Millsap
  • 79. PJ Tucker
  • 80. Renaldo Balkman
  • 95. Josh Boone
  • UR: Quincy Douby
  • UR: Nick Fazekas
  • UR: Aaron Gray
  • UR: Dominic McGuire
  • UR: Adam Morrison
  • UR: Joakim Noah
  • UR: Anthony Tolliver

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Miami beats out Kansas and Florida for 2017 center

Jim Larranaga
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Jim Larranaga and Miami just won a big recruiting battle.

Deng Gak, a 6-foot-11 center in the Class of 2017, committed to the Hurricanes on Tuesday over the likes of Kansas and Florida.

“First off I’d like to thank my family for supporting me throughout this long process,” Gak wrote on Twitter, “and all the coaches that recruited me up to this point.

“After thinking long and hard, I’ve decided that the University of Miami is the best fit for me to continue my education and basketball career!”

Gak made an official visit to Miami last month, but followed it up with visits to Gainesville and Lawrence before ultimately deciding to pledge to the Hurricanes.

Ranked in the top-100 by Rivals, Gak joins a strong 2017 class for Larranaga. The Hurricanes already have a commitment from four-star point guard Chris Lykes as well as highly-regarded New Zealand power forward Sam Waardenburg.

Miami would appear to have plenty recruiting momentum at the moment, coming off a 2016 class that included McDonald’s All-American Dewan Huell and top-50 guard Bruce Brown.

After busy summer, a healthy Krzyzewski ready to lead Duke

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 06:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils directs his team during their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 88-80.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Mike Krzyzewski is embracing the grind of another year at Duke after an offseason that was exceptionally busy – even by his standards.

The winningest men’s coach in Division I history is coming off a summer in which he had four surgeries and led the U.S. men’s national basketball team to a third Olympic gold medal.

The Hall of Fame coach who turns 70 in February joked his summer was “a cruise” and proclaimed himself healthy and ready to lead a loaded Duke team that looks capable of contending for a sixth national championship and third since 2010.

“I’m good, and everything that happened was curable and needed to be taken care of, and was taken care of,” Krzyzewski said. “And now I’m raring to go.”

Krzyzewski’s offseason and subsequent return to full health figure to be popular topics of discussion Wednesday when Atlantic Coast Conference coaches and players gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the league’s annual preseason media day.

His health drew widespread concern last February when he missed a game at Georgia Tech – the first time he didn’t travel with his team since 1995 – and briefly was hospitalized with what he recently said was dehydration, high blood pressure and “a little bit of exhaustion,” though he was back at work the next day .

Krzyzewski – who had both hips replaced in the 1990s – also had his left knee replaced in April, had hernia surgery a month later and underwent two operations on his left ankle in June.

The procedure on his knee – which prompted his daughter, Debbie Krzyzewski Savarino, to dub him “the bionic man” – was key, he said.

“It’s one of those times that can happen to anybody where you get a series of physical setbacks,” Krzyzewski said. “Part of the reason I was exhausted was, I had a bad knee, and I really think that whatever happened when we were going to Georgia Tech, a lot of it had to do with me having a bad knee for a couple months and knowing I was already going to get the knee replacement, because I (was) still pushing it.”

Krzyzewski said he’s known both of his knees have been “bone-on-bone” for a while, started feeling pain in the left knee at the beginning of the 2015-16 season and knew it had to be replaced.

But he kept it a secret for most of the season – at times even hiding a knee brace underneath his long pants so Duke’s players and fans couldn’t tell he was wearing one. And while the public didn’t know there was a problem, Savarino said the family noticed in the summer of 2015 that her dad was walking differently.

“Although he never really said a word about it at all, it was hard to watch him walk out on the court and just be a little bit nervous about, is his knee going to lock up on him?” Savarino said.

Coincidentally, just down the road in Chapel Hill, Krzyzewski’s fiercest rival was dealing with a similar situation.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams had a similar surgery in May to replace his right knee , which means that between them, they have seven national titles and four artificial joints. Williams, 66, said he feels comfortable enough to stand for longer stretches than he did last season, while the Tar Heels advanced to the NCAA Tournament title game.

“It does feel better, and it’s been a long process,” Williams said.

Krzyzewski’s procedures left him feeling similarly spry, especially after completing pre- and post-surgery exercises to keep his quadriceps strong. He looked and felt fine during his final run with the U.S. team, leading them to one final gold medal before San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich takes over.

And with his focus now fully on the Blue Devils, he says he feels younger than before and is showing no signs of slowing down. He says now he can get more hands-on during practice than he could last year, when he left much of the on-court work with the players to his assistants.

“I knew I was going to be better. I knew that leg was going to be straight,” he said. “I knew that I’d have more energy and I knew that I needed to get ready for the Olympics. So in a very short period of time, I was well, and my knee is terrific. I’m like the poster boy for knee replacement.”

AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill contributed to this report.

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NCAA rejects UNC’s arguments in Notice of Allegations response

Bubba Cunningham
AP Photo/News Observer, Shawn Rocco
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The saga of the NCAA vs. North Carolina took another step forward on Tuesday.

In August, when North Carolina responded to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, the school did their best to try and get off of a technicality. We went in-depth on the matter here, but in short, UNC found documents that they believed showed that the NCAA had determined, in 2013, that no rules were broken and that, during the investigation, the association tried to hide this ruling from the school.

The NCAA responded to those allegations last month and UNC released those documents on Tuesday. From the News & Observer:

NCAA officials have told UNC-Chapel Hill that its largely due-process arguments to shut down an infractions case involving bogus classes that disproportionately benefited athletes are “without merit.”


“The new information provided, for the first time, a complete picture of the athletics department’s preferential access to anomalous AFRI/AFAM courses and, in some cases, how it used those courses to retain NCAA academic eligibility for student-athletes,” the NCAA’s enforcement staff said.

The NCAA also determined that the violations were not mandated by a four-year statute of limitations and that the extent of the misconduct was not truly known until 2014, the result of the Kenneth Wainstein investigation. The document that North Carolina referenced in their response to the Notice of Allegations was from 2013.

College Basketball’s Top Frontcourts

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 26:  Dillon Brooks #24 and Jordan Bell #1 of the Oregon Ducks battle for a rebound against Khadeem Lattin #12 of the Oklahoma Sooners in the first half in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional Final at Honda Center on March 26, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The most difficult thing to do when putting together a list of the nation’s best back courts if figuring out who, exactly, belongs listed as a member of the back court. 

Take Brandon Ingram, for example. Last season, he played the four for Duke, typically lining up alongside Marshall Plumlee on the Blue Devil front line. But given his skill-set and his physical tools, he natural position is probably as a three. Then if you actually go back and watch the film, the role he played was essentially as a scoring guard, a two. 

Positionless basketball, by definition, makes identifying positions a nightmare. 

So we worked through a lot of these. Duke’s Jayson Tatum is listed as back court and not front court because we expect him to play the way Ingram did last season. Villanova’s Josh Hart is in our back court rankings because, like Kansas’ Josh Jackson, his ability to rebound doesn’t change the fact that he is true wing. Hart’s teammate, Kris Jenkins, is more of a small-ball four and a mismatch in the front court, which is more or less the same way we view Dillon Brooks.

We unveiled the top backcourts in college basketball earlier today.

Here’s a look at the top frontcourts.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

1. Duke: (Amile Jefferson, Harry Giles, Marques Bolden, Chase Jeter, Javin DeLaurier, Sean Obi)

With talent and depth across the frontline, the Blue Devils have a potentially special group on a potentially special team. Senior Amile Jefferson returns after missing most of last season with a broken bone in his right foot. He averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds a game and provides loads of experience. If Harry Giles returns healthy from multiple knee injuries, the five-star recruit is a potential top-5 pick and an elite rebounder. Center Marques Bolden is another McDonald’s All-American and potential lottery pick who can score in the post. Sophomore center Chase Jeter was one of the youngest freshmen in the country last season as he’s younger than some incoming freshmen. He could be in for a solid year. Freshman Javin DeLaurier and junior Sean Obi provide more depth than the team had last season.

2. Oregon: (Dillon Brooks, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Kavell Bigby-Williams, M.J. Cage, Roman Sorkin)

The key for this deep and talented group is versatile forward Dillon Brooks, who is one of the premier matchup nightmares in the country. Brooks is injured to start the season and it’s unclear when he might return but the Ducks still have plenty to like. Senior big man Chris Boucher is an elite athlete and shot blocker who is talented enough to hit some threes. Jordan Bell is another big-time shot blocker who provides great minutes off the bench. Junior college big man Kavell Bigby-Williams was the NJCAA Player of the Year and is also a noted rebounder and rim protector. Freshman M.J. Cage was a four-star prospect and junior Roman Sorkin appeared in 22 games last season.

3. Purdue: (Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan, Vince Edwards, Jaquil Taylor, Basil Smotherman)

Losing A.J. Hammons hurts, but the Boilermakers have so much depth and talent here. Sophomore Caleb Swanigan opted to get out of the NBA draft in order to return and he’s a double-double threat with intriguing skills. Isaac Haas takes over at center and the 7-foot-2 center averaged 9.8 points in only 14.3 minutes per game last season. Vince Edwards is another returning starter who can knock down shots and do a bit of everything. Basil Smotherman returns after a redshirt year and will be a key reserve along with sophomore Jacquil Taylor.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 13: Isaac Haas #44 of the Purdue Boilermakers shoots against Colby Wollenman #41 of the Michigan State Spartans in the championship game of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 13, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Isaac Haas (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

4. Kentucky: (Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, Derek Willis, Isaac Humphries, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Tai Wynyard)

It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch freshman big man Bam Adebayo operate this season. A powerful athlete who can rebound and finish with authority, Adebayo has the chance the be a major factor this season in what’s likely his only year in school. Freshman Wenyen Gabriel is another five-star who can defend multiple positions and has an emerging perimeter skillset. Senior Derek Willis showed production as a rebounder and perimeter shooter and he could be asked to play some on the wing this season. Sophomore Isaac Humphries gave some decent minutes last season but needs to be more consistent. Freshman Sacha Killeya-Jones is another five-star prospect who is talented as a shooter but he needs to add strength. Tai Wynyard also joins the roster after redshirting last season.

5. Indiana (Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby, Juwan Morgan, De’Ron Davis)

Sophomores dominate this frontcourt rotation as center Thomas Bryant has a chance to be one of the country’s best players this season. Bryant is a tenacious rebounder and also scored at a decent clip from time-to-time. OG Anunoby can defend nearly everyone on the floor and his upside is immense. There were times late last season when Anunoby looked like he was capable of being a star. Morgan could be a stretch option for Indiana as he made 5 of his 11 attempts last season and showed a good-looking shot. Freshman De’Ron Davis is physical ready to compete and he can provide backup minutes.

6. Syracuse: (Tyler Roberson, Tyler Lydon, DaJuan Coleman, Paschal Chukwu, Taurean Thompson, Matthew Moyer)

The depth of this group should be very good as the Orange have plenty of rotation pieces. Senior Tyler Roberson and sophomore Tyler Lydon are both productive returning forwards and the addition of 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu could make Syracuse’s 2-3 zone tough to score on. Senior DaJuan Coleman is also back to help give some minutes and freshmen Taurean Thompson and Matthew Moyer were both four-star prospects who play with a lot of activity.

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 20: Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers handles the ball in the first half against the Xavier Musketeers during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 20, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Nigel Hayes (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

7. Wisconsin: (Nigel Hayes, Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown, Alex Illikainen, Andy Van Vliet)

Returning their entire starting five from a Sweet 16 team, the Badgers have senior leadership from Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown and one of the Big Ten’s emerging stars in sophomore Ethan Happ. Hayes will be one of the Badgers’ most important players and an All-Big Ten prospect while Happ was an outstanding defender who was a regular double-double threat. The rotation could be even better than last season if Alex Illikainen and Andy Van Vliet can stretch the floor consistently. Illikainen played some minutes as a freshman while Van Vliet will debut after having to redshirt last season.

8. Virginia: (Austin Nichols, Isaiah Wilkins, Jack Salt, Jarred Reuter, Mamadi Diakite)

Losing Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey will hurt, but the addition of Memphis transfer Austin Nichols gives the Cavaliers a potential All-American up front and a very good shot blocker. Junior glue guy Isaiah Wilkins started 21 games last season and does a lot to help the Cavaliers on both ends. Sophomores Jack Salt and Jarred Reuter both earned some minutes last season. Redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite might be the most intriguing big man on the roster as he’s a very good shot blocker who is a great athlete.

9. North Carolina: (Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Luke Maye, Tony Bradley)

Coming off of a national title appearance, the Tar Heels bring back senior center Kennedy Meeks, as he provides some scoring and rebounding and senior forward Isaiah Hicks finally gets a chance to start with the departure of Brice Johnson. Hicks is a former McDonald’s All-American who has been productive in limited minutes and has a chance to be a breakout player. Sophomore Luke Maye gives some depth as he played in 33 games last season while freshman center Tony Bradley is a McDonald’s All-American who has great size.

10. Gonzaga (Przemek Karnowski, Johnathan Williams, Ryan Edwards, Zach Collins, Killian Tillie)

The return of senior center Przemek Karnowski is important because he provides experience on both ends of the floor. Karnowski can draw double teams and block shots with the best of them. Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams led the Tigers in scoring and rebounding before he left and he’s another talented player to put in the starting lineup. Freshman center Zach Collins was a McDonald’s All-American who surprised scouts at the practices with his toughness and ability. Collins was a backup to Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter at Bishop Gorman and is used to being a third big man who contributes. Not many teams can trot a 7-foot-1 center off the bench to replace another as Ryan Edwards returns after 31 appearances last season.

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11. Cal (Ivan Rabb, Kameron Rooks, Kingsley Okoroh, Roger Moute a Bidias, Roman Davis)

When you have the best returning big man in the country in sophomore Ivan Rabb, you’re in the discussion for the best frontcourts in the country. Rabb put up great numbers despite not getting a lot of touches and he was very efficient from the field. Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh combined to play the minutes at center last season as Rooks was more of the scorer and Okoroh protects the rim. Senior Roger Moute a Bidias has given minutes before at small forward and freshman Roman Davis redshirted last year and could help there as well.

12. Texas Tech: (Zach Smith, Norense Odiase, Aaron Ross, Anthony Livingston)

The most underrated frontcourt in the country might be Texas Tech, as this group returns four productive big men that averaged at least 8.5 points per game last season. Junior Zach Smith is a versatile defender who can score and rebound and Norense Odiase is a bruising big man who is productive in limited minutes. Senior Aaron Ross was a double-figure scorer who shot 37 percent from three while Arkansas State grad transfer Anthony Livingston put up 15.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game at Arkansas State last season. This group compliments each other well with differing skillsets and all of them are productive.

13. Villanova: (Kris Jenkins, Mikal Bridges, Darryl Reynolds, Eric Paschall, Dylan Painter)

National championship game hero Kris Jenkins is back and he’s coming off of a monster end to last season in which he was a floor-spacing matchup nightmare in small-ball lineups. Sophomore Mikal Bridges has great defensive versatility and he could be in line for a breakout season. Senior Darryl Reynolds was a valuable reserve who is solid defensively. Fordham transfer Eric Paschall is eligible after sitting out last season and also is expected to help in the scoring column.

14. Butler (Kelan Martin, Andrew Chrabascz, Tyler Wideman, Joey Brunk)

Junior Kelan Martin is the one to really watch here after he averaged 15.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in a breakout sophomore campaign. Senior Andrew Chrabascz is an experienced double-figure scorer and junior center Tyler Wideman has also played a lot of minutes. Local four-star freshman Joey Brunk provides some depth at center and he could be productive as a second-unit big man with his size and post scoring ability.

15. Georgetown (Isaac Copeland, Bradley Hayes, Marcus Derrickson, Jessie Govan)

The Hoyas get another year to try to gel in stay healthy as a lot of talent is back. Junior Isaac Copeland will be expected to be a main scorer for Georgetown and senior Bradley Hayes was granted another year by the NCAA as he was last year’s leading rebounder. Sophomores Marcus Derrickson and Jessie Govan will be expected to take a leap and Derrickson’s skill level and Govan’s imposing size makes for some different frontcourt looks for the Hoyas.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10:  Marcus Derrickson #24 of the Georgetown Hoyas celebrates his three point shot in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the quarterfinals of the Big East Basketball Tournament on March 10, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Marcus Derrickson (Elsa/Getty Images)

Louisville shooting for tournament bid after postseason ban

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, right, talks to Mangok Mathiang during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Western Kentucky, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Louisville, Ky. Louisville won 78-56. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville is eager to play in the postseason again after sitting out last spring, and the Cardinals hope to make it a long stay once they get there.

Though the escort scandal that resulted in a self-imposed postseason ban and other penalties last season is still not resolved, coach Rick Pitino long ago shifted focus toward getting the Cardinals back into this year’s NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA last week accused the program of committing four Level 1 violations and the governing body criticized Pitino for failing to monitor former Cardinals staffer Andre McGee, whom the NCAA says provided improper benefits to recruits and players by hiring strippers.

The case now proceeds to a spring resolution.

For his part, Pitino is more than happy to talk hoops. And on the court, he believes if the Cardinals execute his trademark man-to-man defense, a deep tournament run is possible.

“It isn’t a new style,” Pitino said of his philosophy, “it’s just that we’ve confused a lot of people with our defense and playing our matchup zone. We have probably scrapped that and are playing 95 percent man-to-man. …. The tempo is much more up-tempo, even though we have always been an up-tempo team.”

Louisville’s initial challenge is finding offense with the departures of leading scorers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, graduate transfers who combined to average more than 27 points per game last season for a team that finished 23-8. The Cardinals also lost 6-foot-11 post player Chinanu Onuaku, who averaged 9.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest.

On the bright side, Pitino believes many players have scoring potential with several poised to take charge.

Junior guard Quentin Snider is the Cardinals’ top returning scorer and playmaker (9.4 points, 3.5 assists), but the question might be whether sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell or second-year wing Deng Adel – or both – have breakout seasons.

Mitchell, who became known last season for a series of high-flying dunks, is focused on improving his perimeter game. Adel is able to score from all over the floor and eagerly looks forward to creating easy chances by pressing ball handlers.

The Cardinals believe if they succeed on defense, scoring opportunities will come naturally.

Said Adel, “With our playing style of pressing and focusing on turning teams over, we all have the chance to get points.”

Some other things to look for in Louisville’s season:

LEANER, QUICKER: Mitchell has dropped 18 pounds and weighs around 195, while junior forward Jaylen Johnson has shed weight that Pitino believes was slowing him down. Both players appear faster and more agile and are eager to see what opportunities arise from being lighter. “I don’t get tired as easily and feel more energetic,” Mitchell said. “It might seem small, but that makes a big difference playing in this up-and-down system.”

MIDDLE MANAGEMENT: Onuaku’s departure for the NBA draft caught Pitino off guard, and filling the void he left in the pivot could be a concern. Junior 7-footers Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman continue to develop but must step up their games to man the inside until 6-10 senior Mangok Mathiang returns from a foot injury.

MORE TRANSFERS: Last season’s success with graduate transfers Lewis and Lee led Louisville to choose that route again. This year’s “one-and-done” is 6-1 guard Tony Hicks, who averaged 12.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game over three years at Pennsylvania. The Cardinals also added 6-5 sophomore Dwayne Sutton, who averaged 12 points per contest last season at UNC Asheville. He will sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules but has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

KEY GAMES: The Cardinals’ non-conference schedule presents plenty of challenges in preparation for the tough ACC docket. Besides their annual Bluegrass showdown against rival Kentucky (Dec. 21), they face Purdue in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (Nov. 30) and Indiana on New Year’s Eve in Indianapolis. Louisville also faces Virginia twice and hosts Duke on Jan. 14.

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