CRAWFORD | Pitino's latest Louisville team loaded with interchangeable parts
University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino provides a preseason run through his lineup.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Starting lineup projections are rarely worth the paper they’re printed on. Literally.
University of Louisville sports information director Kenny Klein usually pencils in the previous game’s starters on the “possible starters” list of his game notes (downgraded from projected starters), or at least gives his best approximation.
No matter who he puts in there, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino will skewer it, saying, “Who does Kenny have starting tonight?”
Moreover, the relevant question for Louisville, and for most teams, isn’t who starts, but who finishes, and who plays the majority of minutes.
So to talk about starters three weeks before practice even begins and nearly two months before the first game is especially dicey. But for Pitino’s 2017-18 edition, it’s also pretty instructive.
Pitino said he expects the starting lineup to be in a state of flux for some time, and perhaps all season. And the reason that’s important is that it shows the versatility and interchangeable nature of his roster.
“Right now we’ve haven’t been concentrating on starting lineups because I think it’ll change 15 times this year,” Pitino said when he met with the media on Thursday. “But I can see either Ray (Spalding) or Anas (Mahmoud) at the five, and then Deng (Adel) at the four, V.J. (King) at the three, Tugs (Brian Bowen) at the two, Q (Quentin Snider) at the one. Or Jordan (Nwora) at the three. It’s just going to change. We’re so athletic, we can switch at all four or five positions, which is exciting, because Ray can get out there and guard anybody.”
Got all that? I thought not. Let’s run through Pitino’s comments by player:
ANAS MAHMOUD: Voted a team captain in a near unanimous vote by players and coaches, the 7-foot native of Cairo, Egypt, has gotten his weight to about 233 pounds.
“The challenge for us now will be for him to maintain it,” Pitino said. “I’m really pleased with him. I’m super excited. . . . He has improved tremendously.”
RAY SPALDING: Pitino says the junior Louisville native is “80 percent of the way to greatness.” What that means, exactly, is yet to be seen. Is 80 percent of great “pretty good,” or “really good” or “decent?” Pitino says Spalding’s final hurdle is mental.
“The 20 percent is not the physical, it’s personality on the court,” Pitino said. “When he’s open, commanding the ball, yelling for the ball, and doing things like that.”
DENG ADEL: The 6-7 junior considered a jump into the NBA Draft, but an injury to his left thumb in June slowed him. Pitino, however, said the injury to his right thumb actually came with a benefit. Adel was selected one of three captains by coaches and players.
“He looks great,” Pitino said. “He’s a dominating player in practice. . . . Sometimes injuries help certain players. He went a good month just dribbling with his left hand, and it has really made him a complete basketball player. I believe he goes more left now than he does right -- so injuries can help in the development of a player.”
V.J. KING: He didn’t play as much or as effectively as many expected during his freshman year, but Pitino warned not to underestimate him as a sophomore.
“V.J. now has entered the realm of Donovan Mitchell as a sophomore,” Pitino said.
BRIAN BOWEN: Nicknamed “Tugs,” the late, five-star addition to U of L’s recruiting class has made a huge difference, Pitino said, in filling the void left by the early entry to the NBA Draft of Donovan Mitchell.
“He’s the type of basketball player that you can’t go to one practice or one game and have a great appreciation for him,” Pitino said. “The more you see him, the more you realize he’s got a great aptitude for the game. He can post up. He can score. He can pass. He can handle. He really is multi-dimensional in terms of his skill level. He’s got a very high basketball IQ.”
QUENTIN SNIDER: Pitino, as he has done before, praised his point guard for doing some serious work over the summer to improve his speed and quickness. Snider was voted a captain by coaches and players.
“You have to give Q a lot of credit because when we met at the end of the year I said, ‘Look son you have got to develop some quickness to your game.’ And he got together with his family and hired a speed coach,” Pitino said. “And we’ve actually gotten together and watched one of the workouts, met with the speed coach, and she did some awesome things with Q. He’s much quicker, much faster, much more explosive than he’s been.”
JORDAN NWORA: The freshman wasn’t necessarily expected to be one of the major impact newcomers of this group, but Pitino said he’s made impressive strides since getting onto campus.
“He is multi-dimensional, like Tugs,” Pitino said. “He probably never played defense in his life, and yesterday had 6 steals in a 40-minute practice. . . . He’s been great of late. Now, Jordan was incredibly out of shape. He came in here with a high percentage of body fat, and he’s nine percent now, going from 20 to nine. That’s a great summer. And he knows how to play the game.”
DWAYNE SUTTON: The former walk-on out of Louisville is in line for some playing time in the front-court, Pitino said: “There’s not a whole lot of difference between our starters and Dwayne. I could see him starting every now and then. He’s a physical presence, he’s improved his offense.”
RYAN McMAHON: Pitino said McMahon probably has the inside track on the backup point guard spot at the moment just because he knows the system better. But he will have options.
“We could go three different ways,” Pitino said. “Right now, Ryan has a leg up on the position because he knows everything and Darius is just feeling his way around. But Tugs played the point at 6-8 in high school, so he could move back there depending on who you’re playing. If you’re playing against at team pressuring full court, you might not, but against a half-court team Tugs can get it up against anybody.”
OTHER FRESHMEN: Pitino said Malik Williams “is coming on,” adding of guard Darius Perry and forward Lance Thomas, “Obviously Lance and Darius are a little bit behind because they’re learning different positions right now.”
In all, Pitino reiterated his claim that this would be his most athletic Louisville team.
“All of our returning guys have gotten significantly better, and we add a very strong freshman class,” he said. “It’s the most athleticism I’ve had since I’ve been at Louisville. Now, I’m not comparing them to the championship team or a Final Four team. I’m talking about pure athleticism, this is what I had in my last 3-4 years at Kentucky, in terms of athleticism, length, speed, quickness. Now they’ve got to learn how to play basketball together, and I believe they will.”
Practice begins October 1.
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