Having a top 10 Football program and possible playoff contender Louisville fans are buzzing about the pig skin. So much so that the Louisville Basketball season has arrived like a whisper. Even the annual Red and White Scrimmage on Wednesday night was a non-televised event. Regardless it was still a really good turnout and it didn’t take long for the Louisville faithful to find their basketball groove. A very exciting style of play, and a deep, talented, athletic roster had them on their feet.
Cardinal fans are no strangers to speed. We’ve watched Lamar Jackson running up and down the field for the last few months. The pace of the scrimmage tonight was just as frantic. It was wide open from tip to towels. I was really impressed how the guys held up and they went at it. Love the depth of this group and it will be needed for the up and down style of play. It also helps to have the competition at all of the positions during practice.
I was really excited to see the Cardinals sophomore class. I have covered these guys since the Derby Basketball Festival. That week I knew that this group was going to be special. They did not disappoint. Donovan Mitchell has transformed himself into a lean mean basketball machine. He is faster and appears to be lighter on his feet. He was already extremely athletic and could jump out of the gym. He has really worked on his shot and that was obvious during the scrimmage. He hit 4 threes and was 6-10 from the field for 22 points.
Deng Adel has also made big strides by having a full off season without being hampered by injury. He has a nose for the basket and looks for ways to get his shots. He is going to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. This will especially be true if he can get his jump shot to fall with more consistency. He hit one three point shot and was 5-11 from the field for 14 points.
I’ve always thought that Ray Spalding had the highest ceiling on this team. With his athleticism, height, and wing span he could be a program changer. He played with a lot of confidence Wednesday night and was really active around the basket. He had 15 rebounds 5 blocked shots, and 5 steals.
If you aren’t familiar with Ryan McMahon you will be. He took a red shirt last year and it really helped him physically. Tonight Ryan had the Yum Center crowd on their feet bringing back flashbacks of Pitino’s bombinos. Folks this kid has one of purest jump shots that you will ever see. At one point he hit like three deep balls on consecutive trips down the floor and the crowd loved it. Ryan hit 6 three point shots and was 6-8 from the field for 18 points. This sophomore class showed out during the first scrimmage and McMahon was one of the bright spots. He is going to be a fan favorite and will hit some big shots this season.
I was also excited to see VJ King take the floor for the first time in a Louisville uniform. It didn’t feel like he was a freshman and honestly it was like he had been around forever. He is very poised for a freshman and really fits in nicely to the dynamics of this team. He has great size and is a really athletic kid. He will be ready to contribute game one and will only continue getting better as he gets stronger. He had 19 points.
Cardinal fans were introduced to the graduate transfer rule last season. Trey Lewis and Damion Lee left their mark on the program after just one season. This year Tony Hicks moves into that role and he is going to be just as important to the team as those guys were. He is another guy who has a nose for the basket. He does a great job at finding his shots and creating off the dribble. He is a gritty type of player. He is the type of player to have 20 points and you don’t remember how he did it. He puts his head down and gets it done. He was 10-19 from the field tonight for 26 points. Second highest point total for the scrimmage.
Speaking of silent assassins and gutsy players Quentin Snider is both. He’s always been one of my favorite players and he has become one of the most important players on this team. He is the conductor of the Pitino orchestra. When a play needs to happen he is the guy that will put into motion. He has improved every season and coach Pitino said tonight that he is the only guy on the team close to reaching his full potential. He did what he does on Wednesday night and led the scrimmage with 27 points.
You can really see the physical transformation of this team. And a guy where this really stands out is Jaylen Johnson. Jaylen talked last year about giving up his ranch dressing. Well it was worth the sacrifice. For his size Jaylen really gets up and down the floor well. He didn’t seem fazed by the pace of the scrimmage. He was very active around the basket grabbing 20 boards and scoring 21 points. If I had to give out a most improved award he would win it. The best thing about it is that I think he has just scratched the surface.
I walk away from this first scrimmage very confident about this 2016/17 group. They are a bunch of hard workers and all of them have awesome attitudes. You can tell by how these guys interact in the post-game locker room that they really get along well. It is a cohesive unit. Coach Pitino is trying to emulate the style of play he had with the 96 Cats. If he is going to pull that off then he has the group to do it. This team has depth, length, athleticism and versatility. It’s going to be wide open on offense and in your face on defense. They are going to be fun to watch.