CRAWFORD | Pitino lands Blakeney -- 5 factors that have Cards re - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Pitino lands Blakeney -- 5 factors that have Cards recruiting red hot

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Rick Pitino had a run in 2013 like few coaches have ever had -- an NCAA championship and being announced as a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame all in the same week.

Now, he's on a recruiting run like few he has ever seen -- and certainly like none he has experienced during his University of Louisville tenure.

On Thursday night, five-star prospect of Antonio Blakeney Tweeted that he will be joining the Cards next season, the fourth five-star recruit that Pitino has landed from the Class of 2015.

Evan Daniels, recruiting director for, said Pitino's class now sits at No. 1 on that service's national recruiting rankings. Jeff Borzello, college basketball writer for, said Pitino has "positioned his roster well for the next couple of seasons."

Blakeney said via Twitter: "Man it feels so good, all the hard work has paid off, I will be attending the university of louisville for college -- Coach p I'm coming." (As always with all athlete Tweets, "sic.")

The 6-3 guard from Oak Ridge High School in Orlando made an official visit to U of L during its football win over Miami last weekend. He's widely viewed as one of the top scorers in the 2015 class, both as a slashing scorer and three-point shooter. ranks him No. 13 in the nation.

Others in the class who have received five-star ratings from at least one of the major scouting services are 6-7 forward Deng Adel from Victory Rock Prep in Brandenton, Fla., Donovan Mitchell, a 6-2 shooting guard out of Brewster Academy in New Hampshire and 6-9 Raymond Spalding out of Trinity High School in Louisville.

All have given U of L oral commitments. They won't be official until signing national letters of intent in the fall.

Still, it all leads to the question, what has gotten into Pitino's recruiting at U of L?

A few thoughts on five major factors, with the help of Daniels:

1). RELATIONSHIPS. One happy coincidence this season is that some of the top players in the class are guys that U of L has been building relationships with for a long time.

Blakeney is a prime example, according to Daniels.

"Mike Balado (a U of L assistant coach) did a great job building a relationship with Blakeney before he blew up nationally, and put a lot of time into him," Daniels said. "That was going to be hard for anyone to overcome. They were the leader for months. He told me five minutes ago that he wanted to commit for two months, and kept pushing it off, then he made his visit and couldn't put it off any more."

Donovan Mitchell has liked Louisville for some time, and when he blew up on the national scene they were right there to welcome him. Deng Adel, with his ties to U of L's other players from Sudan, is another that the staff has been tracking for a long time, and Raymond Spalding of Trinity is a hometown player who has been a U of L fan for some time. New U of L assistant Kenny Johnson was recruiting him at IU, and it didn't hurt when he stepped into an assistant's job at U of L.

The Cardinals have had charismatic teams over the last several years, two Final Fours in the past three yeas, and none that captured more of the public eye than their national championship team. Kevin Ware became a celebrity, Pitino made the most of an intense national spotlight, and the program became more fashionable than it has been since its run with Denny Crum in the 1980s. Moreover, the school's move into the ACC puts them now into a league with North Carolina and Duke, as well as some of the more popular Big East schools they've built rivalries with.

"To kids, the Louisville brand right now is cool," Daniels said. "They've had a lot of success on the court. The kids see that."

From Kevin Keatts to Johnson to Balado, all the way back through Pitino's staffs, he's been on a run of quality assistants who have laid strong foundations with recruits, even if they moved on to head coaching jobs.

4. PITINO AS A FINISHER. Pitino has always been seen as an old-school coach. He doesn't shy away from that. Guys have to work hard and put in long hours. They're going to face some adversity because Pitino wants to use it to make them better. But he's also had a softer side on display over the past several years.

His close relationships with some of his players in recent years have been hard to miss -- with Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and others. It's not that he didn't have those before. He was as close to Francisco Garcia as any of his recent players. But he seems to have struck the right balance, and part of that has been recruiting the kind of player who responds best to the kind of leadership he provides.

5. FACILITIES AND MORE. It doesn't hurt to be playing in the KFC Yum! Center. While that's probably not a primary factor in landing players, it doesn't hurt to be playing in perhaps the nation's nicest college basketball arena. Now in its fourth year, the building as a recruiting tool has been around long enough creep into the consciousness of young players. It all helps.

"I think in the end the biggest thing has been relationships," Daniels said. "They just found the kids they wanted and built those over time, and they're bringing in probably Pitino's best class at Louisville because of it."

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