LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Expectations are raging around the University of Louisville basketball program — and they should be.
Jordan Nwora, a likely second-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft who is determined to make himself a likelier first-round pick in 2020, has returned to campus workouts.
Steven Enoch danced with the professional basketball life, too, but settled upon the same flight path as Nwora — another year of college basketball.
Infuse the energy and adrenaline of a Top 10 recruiting class with a savvy, motivated fifth-year transfer guard (Fresh Kimble of St. Joseph's) and the returning core of Dwayne Sutton, Malik Williams, Darius Perry and Ryan McMahon.
No wonder people are talking about the Cardinals.
With all the NBA In/Out decisions final, I found one revised Top 25 for the 2019-2020 season that ranked Louisville sixth.
Another upped the ante to fifth. Yes, I also found a No. 4.
Jeff Goodman of WatchStadium.com liked Louisville at No. 3 — ahead of Duke, Kentucky, Virginia, Memphis and others, while trailing only Michigan State and Kansas.
"I’m glad expectations are high," Nwora said. "It shows you what kind of talent we have. Now it’s up to us to meet those expectations."
In the middle of 700 words of joy, I’ll take a mid-column timeout for several paragraphs of a public service announcement about practicing safe hype.
The pre-season top-ranked team in the AP and USA Today coaches’ poll last season was Kansas. The Jayhawks lost the Big 12 regular-season title for the first time in a zillion years and were beaten by Auburn by 14 points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Nevada was a consensus pre-season Top 10 team. Nevada flopped. Duke and Kentucky missed the Final Four. Auburn did not.
Texas Tech became the national runner-up after earning fewer pre-season votes than Louisville.
“We haven’t done squat,” U of L coach Chris Mack said. “It’s all on paper.”
Actually it’s all on paperwork, the paperwork Nwora filed last week from O’Hare Airport in Chicago as he made his way back from his only pre-draft workout in Los Angeles.
Nwora said that both he and his agent, Bill Duffy, were convinced that he would have been selected if he had remained in a 2019 draft class many consider below average.
But a calf injury limited Nwora’s opportunities to work out for NBA teams, making it unlikely Nwora would have been selected in the first round, even though he averaged 17 points per game and shot better than 37 percent from distance.
“I feel bad that Jordan did not have an opportunity at team workouts to show what he can do,” Mack said.
A second-round selection can come with the risks of non-guaranteed money, more trips to the G-League and a steeper grind in proving a player belongs in the only league that matters.
Better to return to Louisville, shine in the Atlantic Coast Conference, succeed in the NCAA Tournament and work on the list of fixes that coaches say Nwora needs in his game.
Tighter ball-handling. Stronger rebounding. More explosiveness. Showing leadership. Learning the difference between a great shot, a good shot and an ordinary shot.
“As I tell him, sometimes he has too much confidence,” Mack said.
Considering how persistently Nwora has improved during his two seasons with the Cardinals, those are all fixes he is certainly capable of delivering.
Nwora’s decision to return to Louisville confirmed a maturity that is missing from players who start to believe they are ready for the NBA 15 minutes after their first 30-point game.
“It was probably the most stressful decision I’ve made so far,” Nwora said. “It really came down to the wire. I’m putting a lot of trust in (Mack)."
What Mack wants from Enoch is also basic basketball stuff: Be a consistent presence in the post; rebound like crazy; play defense as if it is non-negotiable.
If Enoch and Nwora deliver, the other veterans improve and the freshmen become guys who do more than fill in the gaps, the Top 5 talk will continue into the winter.
"I know the expectations are going to be high, which is good," Nwora said. "I like it."
"We want to shoot for the stars," Mack said. “We enjoy the expectations."
They will certainly be there to enjoy — and test Mack, Nwora and the Cardinals.
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