Chane Behanan had 25 points and 13 rebounds in U of L's first Red-White scrimmage Saturday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – You win a national championship and your starting lineup races to the NBA. Or you start the next season hung-over from the praise of everybody telling you how great you are. It happens. Happens all the time.
You don't do the back-to-back thing in college basketball any more. Only Florida (2006-07) and Duke (1991-92) have delivered in the last four decades.
Louisville is the only team that can go back-to-back this season. That takes extreme fortune, health and other blessings.
But U of L coach Rick Pitino is blessed because only two players have departed for the NBA. Here's another critical element: His returning guys are not showing signs of the complacency that can ruin teams.
One look at the Cardinals during the Red-White scrimmage that U of L staged at the KFC Yum! Center Saturday afternoon showed there's too much competition to get on the floor and stay there.
A fistful of guards, led by Russ Smith, who belongs on your national player of the year pre-season ballot.
A determined collection of wings, highlighted by Wayne Blackshear, who looks healthier than he's been in three years.
A formidable knot of inside players. They'll probably be underrated because there isn't overwhelming height in the group. But they shouldn't be.
Get this: A year ago Chane Behanan, Louisville's junior forward, was unofficially the poster player for guys who did not understand the meaning of hard work. Saturday, Behanan served as the spokesman for extra running and conditioning.
"I think the championship changed everybody," Behanan said. "It opened everybody's eyes to what we can do as a group. We came back hungry. I just saw a different spark in everyone's eyes.
"Everybody, they want to work. They want to run. We're running – suicides. Usually somebody will be complaining about them. We ain't heard none of that."
Nobody has ever suggested Smith came equipped with cruise control. Energy is his calling card. Is Smith seeing what Behanan is seeing, a team that is working even harder?
"It's very hard to rate something like that, but if Chane sees it, he's probably right," Smith said.
A deeper team with more weapons?
"I think that's obvious," said Luke Hancock, the senior who brought the Most Outstanding Player trophy home from the Final Four last April.
It is obvious. Louisville looked deeper Saturday, even with Hancock in street clothes with a sore foot and Kevin Ware battling an infection from pinkeye.
The Red team, getting 25 points from Behanan, 24 from Smith and 21 from Chris Jones, defeated the White team (23 points from Montrezl Harrell), 95-80.
Peyton Siva will be missed. No question. Has to be. He gave four magnificent seasons to the program. Nobody had more poise. Planted the team mentality in the locker room. Siva understood how to play for Pitino. And there's a reason that the Minnesota Timberwolves took Gorgui Dieng in the first round of the NBA Draft. Dieng was an old school post player, eager to rebound and defend.
But Smith understands the reason why he came back for his senior year. To show the world that he can make wise decisions as a point guard. Pitino praised him more for having eight assists and only one turnover in 31 minutes than for scoring 24 points.
Chris Jones looked like a defender who won't back down. Terry Rozier can get into the lane the way that Siva did. And Rozier had 11 rebounds. Anton Gill showed a Taquan Dean stroke, but left-handed, while making half of his 10 three-point shots, scoring 17.
Behanan appeared to be in shape and committed to rebounding. He had 13. Blackshear's confidence has returned.
And Montrezl Harrell? His width, the length of his arms and his 16-cylinder motor will make him different than any center in college basketball, even at 6 feet 8.
"Montrezl is mean," Hancock said. "He's not going to be pushed around my anyone. He plays as hard as anyone I've ever seen.
"I don't see anybody, I don't care how big you are, just coming in there and dominating us. He's got a motor like I've never seen before."
"We're a lot deeper and more athletic," Smith said. "And we're all hungry."