BY JEFF NUNN OF CARDINALSPORTSZONE.COM
For the first time since 2001, the Louisville Cardinals will open the basketball season without Rick Pitino roaming the sideline. Pitino was officially fired Oct. 16, less than one month prior to the Nov. 12 season opener vs. George Mason. But Pitino would not have been there anyway due to serving a five-game suspension issued by the NCAA as part of his punishment for failure to monitor his program.
Assistant coaches Kenny Johnson and Jordan Fair also will not be on the sideline. Fair was fired for his involvement in the Adidas scandal that is currently being investigated by the FBI. Johnson is still on administrative leave as the investigation continues.
The lone returning coach is former Louisville player, David Padgett. Padgett played at Kansas for his freshman year and then transferred to Louisville. He had to sit out the 2004-2005 year but played for Louisville under Rick Pitino from 2005- 2008. After playing a couple of seasons in Spain and on a couple NBA summer league teams, he unofficially retired from playing and turned his attention to coaching. Padgett returned to Louisville where he was the team’s assistant strength coach for the 2010-2011 year. He then left to become an assistant at IUPUI and stayed there until the end of the 2013-2014 season. Then, he returned to Louisville and was named director of basketball operations starting in the 2014-2015 season. On Sept. 29, he was named acting head coach, and when Pitino was officially fired, he was named interim head coach and given a one-year contract.
Padgett has hired former LSU, Stanford and TCU head coach Trent Johnson as an assistant coach. He also hired former Duke point guard and Ohio State assistant basketball coach Greg Paulus as another assistant. The final assistant spot was filled from within. R.J. Evans, who has been a program assistant since May, was elevated to acting assistant coach for the Cardinals on Oct. 20.
It seems as though Padgett has been thrust into a nearly impossible situation but his saving grace is that, despite losing a few key pieces from last year, his roster is loaded with talent.
Gone From Last Year: Donovan Mitchell, Jaylen Johnson, Mangok Mathiang, Tony Hicks and David Levitch.
Mitchell is the biggest loss, as he averaged 15.9 points per game. He was drafted 13th overall by Denver in the NBA draft. Johnson (8.0 ppg and 5.8 rpg) and Mathiang ( 7.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg) were also major contributors. Hicks was a graduate transfer who had limited time due to injury while Levitch was a fan favorite.
RETURNING PLAYERS: Louisville returns seven scholarship players, including two starters and three who started various games throughout last season.
Quentin Snider: The 6-2 senior is from Louisville Ballard High School. This will be his third straight season as the starting point guard. He has started 62 games and appeared in every game for which he was healthy. He is a team co-captain for the second straight year and is expected to help lead this team through the turbulence of the coaching changes. He averaged 12.4 ppg, 4.1 apg and 2.7 rpg last season and his assist to turnover ratio is excellent at 2.7:1.
Deng Adel: Adel is a junior who flirted with going to the NBA draft after his sophomore season. The 6-7 forward averaged 12.1 ppg and 4.5 rpg last season and those numbers are expected to rise. He is most versatile Cardinal and will play both forward positions. He could play the two-guard spot if needed. It’s amazing how good he is considering he has only been playing basketball since he was 14. He is also a co-captain as voted by his teammates.
Raymond Spalding: This junior is a Louisville native out of Trinity High School. The athletic 6-10 big man will be expected to play both the power forward and center positions. He averaged 5.9 ppg and 5.5 rpg last year but will need to step up after the losses of the two big guys from last season. I expect a big season for him probably averaging 10 points and 8 rebounds per game.
Anas Mahmoud: The mobile seven-footer is another co-captain and has steadily improved each season. This is his senior year and I expect that improvement to continue. He is a great rim protector and the anchor on defense. He averages 2.1 blocks per game but is limited offensively. He averaged 5.7 ppg and 4 rpg last season and I look for those numbers to be close to the same this year.
VJ King: A 6-7 wing scored 5.5 ppg last season in limited time. This sophomore is expected to take a huge step forward. He was the prize recruit in the 2016 class and has a wealth of talent. He looks poised for a breakout year and I think he will get 20+ minutes a game and average 12 points and 5 rebounds a game.
Ryan McMahon: McMahon is a 6-0 sharpshooter who frequently comes off the bench to give the team a scoring lift. This kid shoots and shoots with confidence. He hasn’t met a 3-pointer he doesn’t like. Last year as a freshman, he attempted only 8 two-point field goals compared to 52 three-point field goals. I expect more of the same this year.
Dwayne Sutton: After playing his freshman year at UNC-Asheville, the Louisville native came home and had to sit out last year due to transfer rules. As a sophomore he is expected to have an immediate impact. The 6-5 wing averaged 12 ppg and 7.7 rpg as a freshman but it was against lesser competition. Look for him to get better as he gets accustomed to ACC basketball.