LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – As the NCAA Tournament gets under way, fans of University of Louisville men’s basketball may not have a team in the event, but they will be able to watch for how pervasive change may be within the program that came just one slot short of reaching the Big Dance.
Louisville coach Chris Mack hasn’t seen extraordinary turnover in his three years in Louisville, but this offseason could feature more than most, with relaxed transfer restrictions. And players may not be the only ones on the move.
While this may not be a program in need of an Extreme Team Makeover, next season figures to look significantly different from a personnel standpoint.
“What do I need to do better?” Mack asked earlier this week. “Where do I need to grow as a coach? How can I put the best coaching staff forward that works together to help our team improve? I ask those questions in the offseason every year. And they probably have to be a lot more critical questions after this year.”
When a coach is questioning whether he is putting the best coaching staff forward, it could well mean some changes in staff. Mack’s staff hasn’t changed since he arrived in Louisville, with assistant coaches Dino Gaudio, Luke Murray and Mike Pegues.
In the meantime, player shuffling figures to hit Louisville like it will just about everywhere else.
One player has already entered the transfer portal. Aidan Igiehon, a 6-foot-10-inch, 245-pound center from Ireland, left after playing in only 18 games over two seasons and missing most of the 2021 season with illness and injury.
“It's been a tough road for Aidan,” Mack said. “I know he had massive expectations coming in, but he wasn't ready for college basketball at any level when he first came in through no fault of his own. And then throughout his two years he's been injured almost consistently. When I talked to him (Monday) morning, I feel bad for him because a little bit like our team this year, if you can't be on the practice floor each and every day, how do you get better? . . . It was just one tough thing after another, some minor, some a little bit more major.”
Mack also said he expects transfer Charles Minlend to look elsewhere. The high-scoring guard from San Francisco suffered a knee injury in the preseason and never was able to get himself up to speed or into the flow during games – though Mack said he was a good fit with the roster.
“I think this was a really tough experience for Charles,” Mack said. “He came here having scored almost 1,500 points in college, and you know, the injury really hurt him and set him back more than just the six weeks that was forecasted. I don't see Charles making the decision to come back. I think it's been a tough experience. He's done a terrific job of endearing himself to teammates. He was never a guy that was a malcontent. He was always for the team. I love that about him. But it was a tough playing experience, which I can relate to. I went through that my last year in college. But I don't anticipate him being back next year.”
Those likely won’t be the only departures.
“I think that in 2021 with the opportunity to play right away looming, I would not be surprised if there were some decisions made on our team,” Mack said.
Mack said he expects David Johnson to go through the NBA Draft evaluation process, and he said he’s not sure whether Carlik Jones or Malik Williams will return, though he would welcome both.
But beyond the outgoing, there are the incoming. The first arrival was this week when 6-7 Miami transfer Matt Cross signed financial aid papers with the school.
Cross, a native of Beverly, Massachusetts, joins a five-person class currently ranked No. 5 nationally by Rivals.com. Cross averaged just under seven points and 3.5 rebounds per game as a freshman, shooting 40% from 3-point range.
“We are excited to add one of the best shooters in the country to our program,” Mack said. “Matt Cross will help our team a lot next season and beyond. He is a tough kid, is more than a just shooter and has ACC experience from day one. Matt will arrive for summer school this June and provide some things our team was missing this past season. We can’t wait to get him here.”
Beyond that, adding any others will be tricky, with players pouring into the portal every day.
“I think that we want to be quick, but we don't want to be in a hurry,” Mack said. “We don't want to make wrong decisions, either. It's a little bit of both. We want to make sure that we get who we need, to help us be a good team for next year. And there's a balancing act there. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't. There's kids going into the portal each and every day, some of them you have former relationships with because you recruited them at some point, some of them you've never heard of. So we have to find the guys who can really help this team do the things that we want to do.”
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