Team preview: Louisville
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
Psst. Hey, you, University of Louisville fan. Your coach just paid the Cardinals an ultimate compliment if you can allow yourself to stomach the comparison.
"It's the most physically gifted team I've had here," U of L coach Rick Pitino said. "Now whether they can have the maturity of the Final Four team, I don't know. This team reminds me of some of the teams I had at Kentucky."
Digest it for a second, but realize the winners he had at UK. In his first four years commanding the bench in Freedom Hall, Pitino has had just two NBA players (Reece Gaines and Francisco Garcia). They potentially have more than that this season in the five-man freshman class alone.
Pitino-ball could be back in its full, unadulterated glory.
"This will be the most you'll see our pressure and the most you'll see us running since I've been here," he said. "We tried to institute it before, but there's only so much you can do with six or seven healthy bodies."
This team will have the athleticism, the low-post presence and the depth that has prevented the Cards from truly playing his style. And thanks to last year's failures -- an 0-7 record against ranked teams among them -- Pitino has their attention.
"Our freshman [now sophomores] were humbled tremendously," he said. "I don't think they came in humble. We got ranked very high last year & they thought coming in it was the basis of their high school reputation. T-Will [Terrence Williams] wasn't bad, but the other guys never knew what it was to work hard."
They know now after an 11th place finish in the Big East Conference and a trip to the NIT.
It's their summer trip to Canada that has added to Pitino's high hopes. The Cards played a three-game exhibition tour in Ottawa, Ontario over Labor Day weekend. Pitino said he didn't think his freshman would have been ready for Oct. 15 practices had they not participated in their August tune-up.
The NCAA allows schools to take a foreign tour once every four years. The preparation time includes 10 days to conduct full practices. For the Cards, that meant two-a-days.
"Last time I did it was in Italy in '96," Pitino said. "It helps a team tremendously, not only the games, but the added practice. The fact that we can bring our freshmen is an added bonus."
Something else to chew on: The Kentucky team Pitino took to Italy made it to the 1997 NCAA title game before losing in overtime to Arizona.
Of course, that Kentucky team didn't wrestle with injuries the way these Cards already have.