The University of Louisville will play it's first exhibition game of the 2005-06 season tomorrow night when the Cards take on Division II Bellarmine, and they'll start the game without three-year starter Taquan Dean at shooting guard.
The 6-3 senior Wooden Award nominee removed himself from the starting line-up, Pitino told reporters Tuesday, to show the rest of the team how meaningless being a starter is to the Cardinals' overall success this season.
Pitino had recently made a speech to the team after practice about how meaningless the starting line-up is at Louisville, but it seemed to both he and Dean that the freshman-laden Cardinals were having a hard time picking up on the concept. So Dean's removal came about during a private conversation yesterday with the head coach.
"Taquan said 'Look, these guys don't get what we are trying to teach," Pitino said Tuesday. "They don't get defense wins and they don't get what the team is all about yet, nor should they because I didn't get it when I was a freshman.' He said, 'Don't start me for this night. I am going to start every game and I'm going to be the go to guy, so let's show them- meaning the other guys- how meaningless starting is and what this is all about. It is about winning.'"
Pitino said he was initially taken back by the gesture from his senior captain, but said he wasn't surprised by Dean's willingness to give up his spot.
"He has been that way since the first day he arrived here," Pitino said. "Until now, this is the most leadership he has shown, but he is also character and he's the best player. So it is not going to be a big deal because he is going to play the most minutes, and what we are trying to say is that starting is meaningless."
"I just wanted to go out and show the young guys that there is no 'i' in 'team'. You know, it isn't Taquan Dean and the Cardinals," Dean explained. "It is the Louisville Cardinals. I wanted to show them that there are no egos. It is not about egos. We don't play for the name on the back of the jersey, we play for the name on the front."
Dean said he believes Louisville's six freshmen and two other new players are starting to get what he and Coach Pitino are telling them.
"Yes, they are definitely getting it. This is also a reward for going through all of that tough conditioning and all that," Dean said. "It's to get those guys going. They've been playing well in practice."
While Pitino praised Dean for his selfless act, the Cardinal coach has to be shaking his head at his opening day line-up. Louisville's starting five against Bellarmine comes into the game averaging just 8.3 points per game in college.
The Cardinals will start the game with two freshmen, 5-10 point guard Andre McGee and 6-5 small forward Terrence Williams, sophomore center Terrance Farley and juniors Brandon Jenkins at guard and former walk-on Perrin Johnson at power forward.
How did it get to this for a team rated No. 8 in the nation in pre-season polls? Good question.
First, Louisville graduated three seniors- Ellis Myles, Otis George and Larry O'Bannon- and sent junior Francisco Garcia into the NBA Draft from last year's team that finished 33-5 in the Final Four. Then, starting power forward Tello Palacios sprained ligaments in his ankle and foot during a pick-up game this summer and won't be back until mid-December or later. Pitino planned on starting Kansas-transfer David Padgett at center until he broke a bone in his foot. The 6-11 star started practicing again recently, but was held out of the Bellarmine game while he recovers by Pitino's choice. Now, Dean removed himself from the line-up in favor of Jenkins, McGee and Williams getting the start.
Pitino said Dean will still get the majority of minutes at the shooting guard spot and that Padgett will begin playing soon. Louisville will also have the services of freshman power forward Brian Johnson, who is still recovering from a mutliple knee surgeries, but will likely play in two to three minute segments throughout the early part of the season.
Luckily, Louisville's opponent Wednesday night can't put up much of a challenge athletically. Although the Bellarmine Knights will undoubtedly be well-coached, led by former U of L assistant Scott Davenport, their 9-18 record last season and limited scholarship status in NCAA Division II should make them easy prey for even a depleted Cardinal line-up.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. Wednesday night in Freedom Hall. The game will be televised live by WHAS-11 locally.