BOZICH | Louisville's signature win over UNC impresses scouts
A large group of NBA scout were in town Monday night. Many came to see North Carolina. They left town talking about Rick Pitino's Louisville team.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – About 20 NBA scouts assembled at the KFC Yum! Center Monday night.
They set their schedules around the arrival of North Carolina, the nation’s second-ranked team. They departed Second and Main streets chattering about Louisville after the Cardinals’ 71-65 victory.
NBA scouts are advised not to discuss college players. No names here. But I spoke with several who attended the game. Consider this question and answer column an assessment of what they think about Rick Pitino’s 18-4 U of L team.
QUESTION: North Carolina had been shooting better than 48 percent this season. Why was Louisville able to limit the Tar Heels to less than 35 percent shooting and control the backboards?
SCOUT: “Louisville took the game to them. They deserved it. They really battled. Louisville played good defense. They kept ball away from Brice Johnson (UNC’s all-American forward, who managed only six shots).
“Most people saw what they were looking to see. My analysis and your analysis is similar to what the other scouts were saying. Louisville was the tougher team.
“That’s a signature win because you beat a team that is physically better than you are. The whole country took notice on that win.”
QUESTION: Johnson, guard Marcus Paige and UNC forward Justin Jackson are all ranked higher on NBA mock draft boards, but Louisville wing Damion Lee was the most impressive player on the floor, scoring 24 points.
He set the tone with a driving dunk for Louisville’s basket, but also hit four critical three-pointers and all four free throws. What made Lee so effective?
SCOUT: “He’s underrated on a national level. I think he’s highly skilled. I think he plays under control. He does just what the coach wants. Obviously against North Carolina, I think he did set the tone from the beginning. Then he shot the three very well. He picked his spots.
"You heard people question whether he was athletic enough for the ACC before the season. You don't hear that any more."
QUESTION: Lee needed help. Which other Louisville players were impressive?
SCOUT: The more I see (Quentin) Snider, the more I like him. At first, I didn’t see what the coaching staff obviously sees in him. Now seeing him last night I understand better why he’s playing and why he has the ball in his hands.
“The kid wouldn’t quit. He just kept coming. He looked for openings. He found a few (with seven assists and one turnover). He found seams and got in there. He just kept coming and coming. That is a Louisville player. That’s a Rick Pitino player.
“Never quit. Just keep coming at you. In the end, good things will happen.
“I’m a big Donovan Mitchell fan. A big fan. I like him a lot. He’s got a very high ceiling.
“His aggressiveness. The attack mode in him. He’s a terrific athlete. He’s very strong, especially for a freshman. I think he has a decent skill set. He has a world of confidence. He’s really coming at you. I think he’ll end up being a star player for Louisville in the years to come.”
QUESTION: Louisville outscored North Carolina, 36-28, in the paint, and outrebounded the Tar Heels, 41-39. U of L center Chinanu Onuaku appeared to be in the middle of that dynamic.
SCOUT: “I love his determination. I love the fact that he stayed with it. I love the fact that he changed his free throw approach to underhanded.
“Players are afraid to shoot the basketball underhanded. Over half the country should be shooting the ball underhanded because their shooting from the free throw line is so bad overall. It’s terrible. It’s terrible.
“To his credit, he does what he’s being taught to do. He’s doing what gives him the best chance to succeed. That tells me something about his mental toughness and his determination.
“He’s a player for future. He has a good upside. He’s aggressive. He had a double-double (12 points, 10 boards). He really battled them at the basket. I think he’s got a chance to be a good player if he keeps working at it and listens.
“Rick will make him better. Just do what he’s told to do. Let him supply the body and the enthusiasm and the right attitude. The kid will be a multi-millionaire down the road.”
QUESTION: That was Louisville’s first victory against a Top 10 opponent. How much improvement has you seen from Pitino’s team since December?
SCOUT: “Much improvement. I’m not surprised. Rick keeps coaching every day. Tom Izzo (of Michigan State) is the same way. Tom Izzo’s teams get better. Rick Pitino’s teams get better.
“That’s the sign of a great coach. They continue to push and prod, to teach, to motivate and do what they had to do to make their players better and their teams better. And the team is getting better.
“One thing about playing for Rick over the years: If a player will allow himself to be coached and to be driven, no one will drive or push a guy or help a guy more than Rick will. He’ll help the kid.
“Look what he did for Gorgui Dieng (now with the Minnesota Timberwolves). He took him from nothing to an NBA player. That was incredible and was a credit to the kid to allowing himself to be coached and driven. Rick can do that as well as anybody.”
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