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April 8, 2014
Louisville's strength in 2014-15? Guards
Looking ahead to 2014-15, the Cardinals will lose seniors Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Stephan VanTreese and Tim Henderson and will likely lose junior power forward Montrezl Harrell. Those losses will leave UofL with just one significant player from the 2013 NCAA Championship team, Wayne Blackshear.
The Cardinals will return 36 percent of their scoring, 42 percent of their minutes played, 35 percent of field goals made, 37 percent of their assists and 39 percent of their rebounding.
Knowing all that his team has lost, Pitino is still very high on his team's chances next season. The reason for his optimism? Chris Jones and Terry Rozier.
"I think we've got something in place that's special right now," Pitino said. "If your backcourt's not strong...you look at Connecticut as a prime example. Their backcourt's very strong and their other players got better, and that's what you look for. If your backcourt is strong, and I fully expect our backcourt to be strong."
Pitino understands why some would be skeptical of Louisville's potential next season. The Cardinals are losing a lot of talent, and also moving into one of the toughest leagues in the country, the ACC.
"If you look on paper (with next year's team), you're not going to be very impressed, but I'm very bullish on them because they have great pride," Pitino said. "Chris and Terry have a lot of pride in what they do. We've just got to get Wayne. . .we've got to get him handling the ball better. He's got to be what I call a 'bully guard,' where he takes somebody on the wing and doesn't just shoot a 3-point shot. If you get on him he bullies you to the basket and goes in there and gets fouled."
Pitino also signed a top five recruiting class coming in this season. At point guard, Louisville signed four-star point guard Quentin Snider (6-1, 170, Louisville Ballard), four-star small forward Shaqquan Aaron (6-7, 175, Seattle Rainier Beach), four-star power forward Jaylen Johnson (6-8, 210, Ypsilanti, Mich.) and three centers: 6-10, 235-pound Chinanu Onuaku (Riverdale Baptist, Upper Marlboro, Md.), 7-2, 210-pound Anas Mahmoud (West Oaks Academy in Orlando) and 7-2, 215-pound Matz Stockman (Canarius Basketball Academy, Canary Islands).
"I don't know what to expect from the freshman class; it's all a guessing game," he said. "We have great size coming in. With Chinanu (Onuaku), I know he's going to be a physical player, but we've got to get him in great shape. Jaylen Johnson, you'll be very impressed with. You'll see his skills at 6-foot-8, the way he handles the ball, the way he passes it. He'll dribble the ball upcourt like Antoine Walker, but he's got to get stronger. He'll evolve.
But there are question marks.
"You don't know what you're getting, especially from the two really big guys," Pitino said. "I have no idea what I'm getting."