Rick Pitino on this Louisville team: ‘It is the most athletic talent that I’ve had’

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Rick Pitino seems optimistic about the Louisville team that he will be fielding this season, which is saying something considering that the No. 13 pick in the draft, Donovan Mitchell, left school with two years of eligibility remaining.

“I don’t want to say it’s my best team or most talent because you don’t know about team, but it is the most athletic talent that I’ve had [at Louisville],” Pitino said during an interview with Terry Meiners of 840 AM in Louisville. “It rivals some of my Kentucky teams, and that’s a real good thing.”

Specifically, Pitino seems to be the most excited about a trio of returnees: Senior point guard Quentin Snider, junior big man Ray Spalding and sophomore wing V.J. King. Pitino told Meiners that Snider hired a speed and quickness coach during the offseason, and that the work is already paying dividends, while Spalding and King both saw Mitchell’s development into a millionaire and learned from it.

“The most improvement has been made by Ray Spalding by far. He finally got serious about his game, and he needed to get serious about it because he’s entering his junior year,” Pitino said. “I just think Ray got comfortable. Donovan Mitchell was totally tuned into being a pro. He spent the time in the summers. ‘I came in here with a flat jump shot and I;m going to leave with a great jump shot. I came in here without point guard skills and I’m going to leave here with point guard skills.’ He said to me after freshman year what do I need to do to be a pro. I said three things, and he went to work on them and he came away and he’s a pro, the 13th pick in the draft.”

“VJ King has gotten a lot better. He was a freshman that didn’t like contact very much, but now he loves contact. Very similar to Donovan, he’s made up his mind, you told me what i need to do, coach, and I’m going to get it done. Very, very impressed with him. Just like Donovan improved as a sophomore, you’re going to see that with VJ.”

Pitino has also been impressed with the readiness of five-star freshman Brian Bowen, which is why the idea of playing a small-ball lineup this season.

“If I had to start tomorrow,” Pitino said, with the caveat that Anas Mahmoud is battling an ankle injury, “I’d play Ray [Spalding] at the five and then play four guards — Deng [Adel], V.J. King, Brian [Bowen] and [Quentin Snider]. Run a lot of motion, switch everything.”

Louisville is currently ranked 8th in our preseason top 25.