CRAWFORD | Gains far outweigh losses on Louisville's Puerto Rico - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Gains far outweigh losses on Louisville's Puerto Rico trip

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Rick Pitino speaks to his players and coaches before their final game in Puerto Rico. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Rick Pitino speaks to his players and coaches before their final game in Puerto Rico. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

TRUJILLO ALTO, P.R. (WDRB) — What good did all this do? Believe it or not, there have been more than a few people who asked that question as the University of Louisville basketball played its way through seven games in Puerto Rico.

And perhaps, at times like Saturday night, when the team arrived to play a game at the Coliseo Ruben Zayas Montañez with no running water and a court so slick that every U of L team manager had to be dispatched to floor-wiping duty, the question might seem reasonable.

But from a basketball standpoint, the answer is a no-brainer.

Before Friday’s game at Manati, I asked assistant coach Kenny Johnson how long, during the regular preseason practice setup, it would take for U of L coaches and players to accomplish as much as they have on this trip. He shook his head.

Two weeks? Three weeks? A month?

“I’d say more than that,” Johnson said. “You have time and score situations that they’re going through. They’re learning with in-game action, what it means to make one extra pass with the clock under six seconds. With the new rules, they’re not allowed to call timeout in the flow of the game. Playing with the 24-second clock. It’s been very valuable, and then working in the new guys. I don’t think you can put a value on it.”

If Louisville had started practice the way most teams will, the Cardinals would have a bunch of key newcomers just trying to learn the offense. As it is now, they know some of the offense, and some defense.

They have a feel for where the points come from, and where they are weak.

Pitino has hours not just of practice video, but game video.

None of this means the Cardinals will be a great team. But it means they’ll be better when practice fires up in October than they ever would've had a chance to be otherwise.

Winning and losing here wasn’t all that relevant. Seven games in five days, and the 10 practices the NCAA allowed to prepare to do that, were the goal in themselves.

“If we didn’t have this, I’d be really worried going into the season,” U of L head coach Rick Pitino said. “Really worried. Because these guys have to all learn how we play this game. Everybody. Deng Adel, Ray Spalding, Donovan Mitchell, Damion Lee, Trey Lewis, they all have to learn how we play. So without this, it would’ve been very difficult. This makes it a lot easier.”

There was progress, a respectable opening night followed by a blowout in the second game, and a crisis moment in which the coaches walked players through mistakes and got them ready for what wound up being an overtime loss in the third game. The Cards wrapped up the trip with two wins, but there were some shaky spots in both.

Asked if he got out of the trip what he’d hoped, Pitino said, “Times two. It was much better. You know, these trips sometimes are really a vacation where you can mentally bond together but it’s not physically rewarding for improving as a basketball team because the competition is not real good. Bahamas is an indication. So we got a lot out of it bonding-wise, we got a lot out of it basketball-wise.”

The players also got rid of some of the apprehension of playing with guys they’d never played with before, or in the case of returning players like Mangok Mathiang and Chinanu Onuaku, of playing without last year’s leaders.

“We were able to battle through adversity, even when we were winning. I think this will help us late in games. . . . For Damion and me, it gave us an advantage because we learned about playing with each other and with the other guys. I learned a lot about where he likes to shoot from, and about my team in general, where everybody likes to score from, how our offense flows when certain groups play together. A lot of things we learned from this trip.”

Pitino said he comes away with a good feel for his freshman class, and for his team in general.

The Cards now get a chance to have fun for a day in Puerto Rico, before returning to Louisville on Monday. They’ll have a week off, then resume workouts. Pitino will remain in Puerto Rico for a tournament the team has next week.

It wasn’t always pretty, or even smooth. But everyone at U of L will tell you, the trip was extremely beneficial.

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