CRAWFORD | Out of shadow of scandal, Pitino lighting it up on re - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Out of shadow of scandal, Pitino lighting it up on recruiting trail

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- With the specter of NCAA sanctions looming at the University of Louisville a year ago, it was easy to wonder what the future of its men's basketball program might look like.

I'm not sure anyone thought it looked as promising as it has actually turned out.

Set aside that Louisville has a Top 6 team in the computer rankings and human polls with just three seniors (and perhaps a very talented sophomore) departing next season. Last November, coach Rick Pitino announced a Top 10 recruiting class that includes five-star Fort Wayne forward Malik Williams, four-star Georgia products Darius Perry (point guard) and Lance Thomas (forward) and sharp-shooting forward Jordan Nwora out of New York.

He has followed that up with a talented guard tandem in the 2018 class, landing Altamonte Springs, Fla., four-star shooting guard Anfernee Simons back in November, and on Friday getting a verbal commitment from St. Louis point guard Courtney Ramey, a four-star or five-star recruit, depending on the service. Scout.com ranks Louisville's 2018 class at No. 4 nationally, though it's too early to put much stock in that.

Regardless, paired with what is returning, next season is shaping up already as one of the most anticipated in Pitino's Louisville tenure, and beyond figures 

"We really have had to work, and couldn't make mistakes in evaluation," Pitino said late last year, when asked about recruiting.

He and his entire staff were taken off the road for all of April, and the program docked itself a pair of scholarships as part of self-imposed penalties in the sex-for-recruits scandal it continues to work through with the NCAA. Their overall number of "recruiting opportunities" in 2016 was reduced by one-quarter.

Pitino himself continues to contest possible sanctions from the NCAA -- including suspension -- over allegations that he failed to monitor former director of basketball operations Andre McGee, a charge he strongly disputed in a recent response to the NCAA.

Recruits, however, don't seem concerned.

Ramey told Scout.com's Evan Daniels, "I felt like I had the best relationship with Louisville. They made it known I was a major piece to their team and also the location was perfect. Beyond that I love the ACC and their style of play was a big key in me picking them."

With that backcourt foundation set, Pitino now can lock in on some bigger targets, including the one everyone wants -- New Albany forward Romeo Langford.

And while the coach is focused on the upside of his current players, it shouldn't be forgotten that in the midst of scandal, he is on his way to putting together perhaps the best consecutive classes he's had at Louisville.

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