Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Louisville Summer Report

Rick Pitino’s been hitting the recruiting trails hard this July, going out guns-a-blazing to get top-tier talent like 7-foot center Fabricio Del Melo to pen.

Hounding down top-flight gamers is a workaday summer regimen the longtime game general embraces.

Biding adieu to players such as Terrence Williams and Earl Clark may not have been as easy.

Not to worry.

Pitino returns an ultra-athletic and skilled big man in Samardo Samuels. The Jamaica native flourished as the season progressed, establishing himself as an interior presence.

The Cardinals looked at this past season as a failure. An overall wasted season.

All signs pointed to a Louisville conquest. Many folks favored them in their brackets. Louisville would suffer an ugly loss to Michigan State in the Elite Eight, and Cardinals players told themselves and the media that it wasn’t supposed to end that way.

Will the Cardinals use the 2009 NCAA tourney shortcoming as extra juice this year? Will they have the pieces to eye a run to the promised land?



KEY LOSSES:

Terrence Williams, 6-6 F:

Williams took the NCAA by storm last year, using his immense athleticism and full, all-around basketball package. Williams rolled off a resume reel his final year at Louisville. The 6-foot-6 jack-of-all trades boasted versatility, strong transition play, relentless grit, and the ability to score and defend multiple positions. These facets of Williams’ game, coupled with his 12.5 points, 8.6 boards, and 5.0 assists will be sorely missed next season.

At the same time, these aspects helped catapult Williams to the NBA. The kid from a traditional basketball breeding ground in Rainier Beach, WA (where Doug Christie, Nate Robinson, and Jamal Crawford all came up) will look to make an impact with the New Jersey Nets this year.

Earl Clark, 6-9 G/F:

The loss of Clark is also a tough pill to swallow. Another Louisville player bagged in the first round (taken by the Phoenix Suns), Clark was versatile on both ends of the floor and played a fundamentally sound brand of basketball. Clark’s full nine yards of 14 points, nine boards and three dimes per game helped propel the Cardinals to the elite eight.

Jerry Smith, 6-2 G: A sharpshooter and solid role player, Smith made the most of his last year in the bluegrass. He scorched the nets on multiple occasions, including a 6-point victory over West Virginia and in the blood-lettering of Arizona in the tournament.

Andre McGee, 6-3 G: Albeit feast or famine shooting the ball, McGee led by example his senior year.




KEY RETURNERS:

Samardo Samuels, 6-9 G: The games get bigger, Samuels gets better. One of the Big East’s premiere rookies (he was edged out by Georgetown’s Greg Monroe in the Big East Rookie of the Year Race), Samuels progressed as the season went along. He posted 12.5 points and five boards and showed major promise.

Edgar Sosa, 6-2 G: If he decides to put the clamps on someone, an act he’s shied away from the past few years, Sosa can emerge into a major guard in this league. Consistency needs to improve. Sosa is capable of lighting up the scoreboard, as an 18-point explosion against Providence proved. The New York guard has had his run-ins with Pitino. Can he buy into his coach’s sophisticated philosophy and become an essential ingredient in the offense?

Preston Knowles, 6-1 G: Good shooter who could potentially surface as a proven scorer. Needs to be more consistent and step into a bigger role next season.

Terrence Jennings, 6-9 F: Meager stats will be jacked up next year if this long forward plays his cards right. He has the potential to be a interior presence to supplement Samuels, as performances against Seton Hall and West Virginia proved.

KEY NEWCOMERS

Mike Marra, 6-4 G: Rhode Island-bred sniper can dial in from downtown and has springy bounce.

Peyton Silva, 6-0 G: Super-quick, high-energy guard who can shoot, dish, scrape defenders off the dribble and slash. Seattle native has the opportunity to make immediate impact.

Rakeem Buckles, 6-8 F: Strong finisher who can run the floor and soar above the rim. Big body and manpower will be needed for the Cardinals.

Stephen Van Treese, 6-9 F/C: Skilled big man from Lawrence North in Indiana (Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr.’s alma mater) can do it all. Hustles and gets the job done in the paint.