LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- This is the last college basketball notebook before the start of hoops practice. It is finally here. The most anticipated college basketball season, perhaps ever, in a town that anticipates college basketball like no other. Big Blue Madness Friday night. ESPN-televised IU practice. Public Louisville scrimmage at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday. Time to get going . . .
VITALE TABS CARDINALS NO. 1
Like his ESPN colleague Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale has cast his vote for the No. 1 spot in the college basketball preseason to the University of Louisville.
Vitale's rationale: 1. Experience: The Cardinals had a taste of the Final Four last year before falling to Kentucky. Having a veteran like Peyton Siva back to run the offense in so important. There is a nucleus returning that came so close last year. I look for big things from Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng as well.
2. Blackshear a breakthrough star: Wayne Blackshear missed most of last season with a shoulder injury but he has the potential of stepping up big-time. He can do it all as a difference-maker with tremendous talent.
3. New faces will help: Luke Hancock averaged double-figure scoring at George Mason before transferring. Montrezl Harrell is a highly-regarded newcomer from Hargrave Military Academy who should contribute. Louisville has the depth to win it all.
4. Dieng is a factor in the middle: Having a shot-blocker in the paint can make a difference. Go ask Kentucky how important Anthony Davis was in the middle last season.
5. Pitino is a winner: He should be in the Hall of Fame and winning it all would add a big feather in his cap. His outstanding leadership skills will help get this team to the winner's circle.
Vitale's full Top 40 will hit the ESPN.com website this week.
NAZR MOHAMMED KEEPS GOING -- AND GOING
Not every former University of Kentucky basketball player in the NBA was coached by John Calipari, it only seems like it. Nazr Mohammed was recruited by Rick Pitino and then coached by Pitino, Tubby Smith and the Energizer Bunny.
Mohammed, 35, is primed to start his 15th NBA season, this time with the Chicago Bulls. Mohammed lives in Louisville in the off-season and keeps himself in tremendous physical condition. He started his career with Philadelphia during the 1998-99 season. The Bulls will be his eighth NBA team. According to basketballreference.com, Mohammed has earned nearly $61 million, not counting his postseason money.
"Time flies, but I still feel great," Mohammed told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. "I do a lot in the summer to stay in shape. I take care of my body. I think I can still impact the game as a backup center."
This should be a special season for Mohammed because he grew up in Chicago, where Pitino recruited him at Kenwood Academy. He wasn't a Top 150 recruit because he was overweight, more than 300 pounds. Pitino fixed that.
Mohammed told the Tribune that playing in his hometown will be a blessing, not a distraction.
"You have to know how to say no, but I'm one of those guys who people say has always acted beyond my years," Mohammed said. "People do want to be a part of your life or want favors. But at this stage of my career, this is a gift."
WHO'S MORE VALUABLE THAN CALIPARI? FORBES SAYS BILL SELF
John Calipari won his first national title at Kentucky last April. The team that Kentucky beat in the national championship game was Kansas. The Jayhawks are coached by Bill Self.
Calipari's recruiting mojo never ends. He's about to line up the best recruiting class in the nation for the fifth consecutive season.
Don't tell that to Chris Smith of Forbes.com, a division of Forbes, the financial magazine.
Smith wrote a piece this week outlining why Self is the most underrated coach in college basketball for the way he keeps sending the Jayhawks deep into the NCAA Tournament and increasing the value of the Kansas brand.
Forbes doesn't look at programs the way that Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps look at them. It looks at programs the way that Warren Buffett looks at them. Smith argues that when Forbes first valued college basketball programs in 2008, Kansas was ranked the eighth most valuable, worth $16 million. The latest Forbes' valuation has the Kansas program ranked the third most valuable, behind only Louisville and North Carolina.
Maybe that is why Self's latest contract extension extended his deal into 2021-22 and guarantees Self more than $52.2 million.
IS INDIANA NO. 1 OR NO. 2? DON'T ASK BOB KNIGHT
The chill in Bob Knight's feelings toward Indiana University does not come with an expiration date. It's been more than 12 years since IU dismissed Knight during his Hall of Fame career, sending him on the way to Texas Tech and then an analyst career with ESPN.
The Hoosiers had to dismiss Mike Davis and Kelvin Sampson in the first eight years after Knight was gone, but Tom Crean has IU primed for a Top 10 season this year. Some magazines have Indiana ranked Number One to start the season.
Don't ask Knight about it.
A representative of WANE television in Fort Wayne, Ind., interviewed Knight Thursday prior to a speech the coach delivered in northwest Ohio. Knight talked about changes he'd like to see in college basketball, his disdain for the one-and-done rule and conference realignment.
Then the interviewer tried to ask him about IU.
This is how it went:
Questioner: From an analyst's perspective, with the work that you've done at ESPN, a lot of people are talking about IU, just from an analyst's perspective…
Knight: I have no idea. I can't even begin to talk to you about teams because I haven't seen anybody play yet.
A PENNY FOR LANCE THOMAS' JEWELRY THOUGHTS? NOT YET
Former Duke forward Lance Thomas said he can explain the story about how he was able to put down $30,000 to purchase more than $97,000 worth of bling from a New York jeweler during his senior season at Duke University more than two years ago.
He just can't do it yet.
He isn't ready to talk. Not to the NCAA. Not to Duke. Not to a reporter from the Herald-Sun newspaper in Durham, which sent Steve Wiseman to Louisiana last week to interview Thomas at the New Orleans Hornets' media day.
Thomas said he does not believe that he broke any NCAA rules. Thomas was sued by the jewelry company, Rafaello and Company, for failure to pay the remainder of the bill, but the sides reached an out-of-court settlement on Sept. 18. The settlement included a confidentiality agreement. Nobody is saying a word.
"There's more to it, but I'm not going to comment on it right now," Thomas said. "Everything will unfold once everything is taken care of the right way.
"I do feel bad that was something that is lingering around the university. But everything is going to be taken care of the right way. I hope the coaching staff and the whole university know that those were the best four years of my life, and I love Duke until I die.
"But I have to take care of things the right way, and I'll reach back out to them when I can."
Maybe Anthony Davis and Darius Miller can get the information for The 'Book. They're teammates with Thomas in New Orleans.
Practice starts this week with dozens of faces in new places across the college football map. The Notebook believes these are the Five New Guys To Watch
1. Jim Crews, Saint Louis. Crews has stepped in for the ailing Rick Majerus. The Billikens are expected to contend for the Atlantic 10 title and figure to start the season in the Top 25. Crews, a member of Indiana's 1976 NCAA champs, did good work at Evansville.
2. Kevin Ollie, UConn. Jim Calhoun finally said goodbye, and the program that he handed off the Ollie is low on talent and ineligible for post-season play. One other thing: There's no guarantee Ollie will keep the job beyond this season.
3. Johnny Jones, Louisiana State. The Southeastern Conference is a better place with LSU is loaded and competitive. Jones played for Dale Brown. He understands that.
4. James Johnson, Virginia Tech. The Notebook is thrilled that it won't have to listen to Seth Greenburg complain about the Hokies being relegated to the NIT any more.
5. Richard Pitino, Florida International. If Pitino can clean up the mess left by Isiah Thomas and make FIU relevant, it will be fun to start charting the arc of his career.