Blogger Spotlight: Card Chronicle on Louisville’s lively offseason


Louisville’s had a busy offseason (though Maryland might scoff at that remark). Assistants left for other programs, a starter left for the NBA and coach Rick Pitino won’t be going abroad to coach.

What’s all that mean?

I turned to Mike Rutherford of Card Chronicle to sort out the latest news, look at Louisville’s promising 2011-12 season and more in the latest Blogger Spotlight.

         Click here to read previous Blogger Spotlight posts

Q: Let’s recap: Two assistants took other jobs, Terrence Jennings stayed in the NBA draft and Rick Pitino didn’t get the Puerto Rico job. Busy few weeks. But I’m sure it’s preferable to the offseason news from the last two summers.

A: Yeah, going into “woe is me” mode almost feels forced at this point, but as far as occurrences which will actually have a direct impact on what takes place on the court, I’m not sure we (Louisville fans) have gone through a more tumultuous offseason. And it hasn’t even been two months since “last year” actually ended.

A couple of weeks after the season-ending loss to Morehead State, I got word from a current player that Jennings was “most likely” going to be leaving. The player said Jennings was fully aware that making an NBA roster was a long-shot, and that he was content with a professional career in Europe. I figured this may have been somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction, but it appears the additional time had no effect on TJ’s perspective.

It’s easy to chastise Jennings’ decision as foolish or reckless, but a closer inspection reveals that it might well be the best play for him personally. Freshman Gorgui Dieng actually stole the starting center spot from Jennings relatively early on in the season, and held onto it before getting hurt about midway through conference play. More than any other player on last year’s roster, Jennings seemed to take being substituted out of the game extremely personally. Whenever he made anything that could potentially be viewed as a mistake, his next move was always a glance to the bench. It’s not a coincidence that his best games as a Louisville Cardinal came during the period where Dieng was in street clothes. A situation where he would be competing for minutes with a sophomore Dieng, freshman Zach Price, and (potentially) Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods surely weighed heavily on Jennings’ decision.

I think the other big factor behind Jennings’ leap was seeing what happened to Samardo Samuels last year. Samuels’ decision to sign with an agent was almost universally panned, then he went undrafted, but then he caught on with the Cleveland Cavaliers and ranked among the NBA’s top 10 rookie scorers for the bulk of the season. Jennings’ stats were unlikely to improve dramatically next season and this year’s draft class figures to be extremely less formidable than next year’s, so it stands to reason that this might be the best chance he has at getting a decent look from an NBA franchise.

The other key event of the offseason thus far was the departure of assistant coach Tim Fuller, who bolted for Missouri and the open arms of pal Frank Haith after just one season in town. Fuller is a big Nike guy and was instrumental in the bulk of the big-name recruits who pledged their allegiance to U of L over the past 12 months. Since his departure, elite commits Negus Webster-Chan and Rodney Purvis have both re-opened their recruitment, and controversial Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods has said that he’s re-exploring his options.

The unrest on the staff was the reason given by Webster-Chan – who was not recruited by Fuller – and that’s fairly easy to understand. In a short span of time, Fuller bounced, Steve Masiello took the head-coaching job at Manhattan, and Mark Lieberman – who did recruit Webster-Chan – moved from assistant coach to director of basketball operations. Everyone’s hoping for some recruiting life to be breathed back into the program now that the staff of Richard Pitino, Wyking Jones, and Kevin Keatts has been set in place.

As far as the Pitino to Puerto Rico deal is concerned, the pair pretty much parted ways when the NCAA ruled that Pitino couldn’t bring Louisville players down to the island nation with him to scrimmage against the national team. When that determination was made it caused multiple scheduling conflicts for Pitino, who told the federation he couldn’t be committed 100% to the team, and that was essentially that.

Q: Will the Cards miss Jennings other than having him for frontcourt depth?

A: He’ll definitely be missed, but the extent of the longing will depend largely on the offseason development of Dieng and what happens with Woods.

Dieng showed flashes of absolute brilliance as a freshman, and Pitino even said and one point that Gorgui can end up being as good as he wants to be. For whatever reason, though, big men haven’t made great strides from one season to the next during the Pitino era. That could be an issue as Dieng, who is originally from Senegal, still looked undeniably raw at times last year. The good news for U of L fans is that one of Gorgui’s biggest strengths is his willingness to rebound, an area where Jennings consistently struggled.

The big question mark right now is Woods, the former blue chip recruit from Wake Forest who was dismissed from school after pleading guilty to assaulting the mother of his child. Woods claimed in the days following Fuller’s exodus that he was “re-exploring his options,” and we haven’t heard a whole lot out from him since. If he does join the team for the spring semester as expected, he’ll almost certainly have an immediate impact as Price, a top-100 recruit from Louisville Jeffersontown High School, is talented but unlikely to come in and contribute immediately.

Q: How high are your expectations for the backcourt next season? Peyton Siva, Chris Smith, Kyle Kuric and Wayne Blackshear? Not bad.

A: Very high. Siva had a terrific sophomore season, but the exciting thing is that he still hasn’t come close to hitting his ceiling. He had planned on spending some time working out with Chris Paul this summer (thanks to the Tim Fuller connection), but he’ll now reportedly be spending that time with the Nuggets’ J.R. Smith.

J.R.’s little brother, Chris, was perhaps the biggest surprise on the team last year. He led the Big East in three-point shooting for much of the season, and finished the year averaging a hair under 10.0 ppg, something nobody expected from the Manhattan transfer. I think the case can be made that he’s the most valuable walk-on in college basketball.

Kuric, whose dunk over Notre Dame’s Scott Martin was named the best of the year by CBS, looked like a first team All-Big East player during the last six weeks of the season. It took until late in his junior season, but the coaching staff finally got him to become more than just a perimeter player, which is a huge step in his development since his athleticism is off-the-charts.

We knew for certain that Blackshear was meant to be a Cardinal when he started coming down with minor injuries throughout his senior season of high school ball in Chicago. If he can stay healthy, though, Blackshear may have more of an impact than any Louisville freshman has during the Pitino era. The kid is a pure scorer, which is something the Cardinals have lacked the past couple of seasons.

The only question mark in the backcourt is who runs the show when Siva’s on the bench. Pitino turned to senior two-guard Preston Knowles more and more at the point near the end of last season because he felt freshmen Elisha Justice and Russ Smith couldn’t be trusted. One of those two will need to step up significantly between now and the start of the season to earn the title of reliable backup.

Q: Pitino talked a little bit about retiring after the Morehead State loss. I chalk that up to a tough loss, but it is a question that’ll come up more often, right? How much longer do you see him in Louisville given he’s been there as long as he was at Kentucky and Providence combined.

A: He’s talked about it after each of the past few seasons, which has left a lot of us wondering why. Pitino has to know that talking about not wanting to coach anymore can only have a negative effect in terms of recruiting and national perception, so it’s beyond me why he continues to go there during national interviews.

I think the consensus among most Louisville fans is that he’s sort of been looking at the next handful of seasons as his last shot at a second national title. If it comes this year, next year, or in three years, then I think he’s done immediately after. It might actually only take a Final Four for him to hang it up. By all indications, Pitino seems perturbed by the new world of recruiting and the modern game, so if he doesn’t taste major success over the next two or three seasons I’d still be surprised if he hung around here any longer.

In hindsight, the expectations Louisville folks had for Pitino when he came here 10 years ago were unrealistic. We expected him to do exactly what he did at Kentucky, and because that hasn’t happened yet, some deem the Pitino era as it stands to be a disappointment. But people forget that this was a program near its lowest point and heading even further south when Pitino took over.

U of L won 12 games in Denny Crum’s final season, and Pitino inherited a roster that would have struggled to win the MEAC. If AD Tom Jurich had made the wrong hire in that situation (it was widely rumored that Jurich’s second choice was Larry Eustachy), there’s a decent chance that we’re DePaul right now, or have at least gone through a DePaul-esque period between then and now. In that light, a Final Four and a pair of Elite Eights over a decade doesn’t look too bad. Pitino’s earned the right to choose when to hang it up, however near or far that time may be.

Q: I can only imagine how much the Kentucky fans would’ve loved the idea of Eustachy. When Pitino does retire, do you the idea of a coach in waiting, or would prefer a big name coming in – knowing that Louisville could face the same issue Maryland just did. Louisville’s a great job but could it pry away any coach out there?

A: When the whole “Richard Pitino as coach in waiting” rumor broke out, I had a source close to Jurich tell me that “we’ll never have a coach in waiting,” and I think that’s accurate. While I don’t think Jurich will be able to get whoever he wants, I do think that the Louisville job is one of the most elite in the game. In an era where the turnover rate for coaches is higher than it’s ever been, U of L has had exactly two head coaches in 40 years, and both of them are hall-of-famers.

While I’m not naive enough to think that Coach K would leave Duke or Roy Williams would leave UNC, or even that a guy like Jay Wright would leave Villanova, I do think the Louisville job still holds a certain prestige and that a big name will be brought in whenever Pitino decides to call it a career here.

Q: Has the KFC Yum! Center landed a nickname yet? And how much do people love that place? It looks impressive.

A: Please don’t use the exclamation point. It haunts and taunts (rhyme) all of us.

I think most people are still just calling it “The Yum.” Sorry. We use all our creativity on Derby-related endeavors. Rivals like to call it “The Chicken Shack” or other variations, but all the attempts so far have been just as lame as the name itself.

There’s no doubt that the Yum Center is among the nicest in all of college basketball. As Pitino likes to say: we have a college team playing in an NBA arena. Still, it definitely took some getting used to for a lot of the folks, especially the ones with seats in the upper level where the view isn’t nearly as good as it was inside Freedom Hall.

Freedom Hall was the cute girl with the great family who made being in a serious relationship unbelievably easy. The Yum Center is unfathomably hot and your friends are all very impressed, but she shops a bit too much and you have the sneaking suspicion that being married to her might not be as sexy as it appears to the outside world. Still, the benefits of the relationship are pretty self-explanatory.

I think the biggest factor in getting people to accept The Yum relatively quickly was the amount of success the team had their in its first season. Louisville was undefeated at home in Big East play, and Cards fans were treated to some absolute classics (Marquette comeback) in the arena’s first year.

Q: Favorite Cardinal of the Pitino era?

A: Preston Knowles. You just don’t see stories anymore like his in big-time college basketball.

Knowles is a Kentucky kid who was a two-star recruit with one other college offer (VCU) coming out of high school. Then that May he gets a chance to play in a pick-up game with some current Louisville players who report to Pitino that this kid might be worth a scholarship. He earns playing time almost immediately because of the insane effort he gives on the defensive end and becomes a fan favorite. And then he ends his college career as the leading scorer and undisputed captain of a Louisville team which spent a large chunk of the season ranked in the top 15 nationally.

Q: How’d you get into blogging and how much longer do you anticipate doing this? And randomly, a lot of bloggers I’ve met are lawyers. Is there something to that?

A: I got into blogging about five years ago because I was bored and was preparing myself for some form of a writing career. Then I got out of college and realized quickly that no one is willing to pay you for written words anymore unless those words are telling a tale of vampire romance. I plan on continuing to do this as long as people are reading…and then probably a little while longer after that.

As far as lawyers who blog, my guess is the numbers are so high because they tell you that your only other free-time alternatives are alcoholism and suicide. Seriously kids, if you want to go to law school, brace yourself for hours upon hours of suicide, depression, and alcoholism discussions. Legally Blonde is incredibly misleading.

More of Mike’s writing can be found at Card Chronicle, or follow him on Twitter.

You can follow Mike Miller on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”