LOUISVILLE— If Louisville’s basketball team plays well in its season debut next week, part of the credit should go to some former Cardinals.
Last year, UofL coach Chris Mack felt that a closed exhibition game against Ohio State, helped UofL get ready for the season, a benefit that would have been even more valuable this year considering the young roster Mack is working with.
The Cards also had the advantage of having played exhibitions against Bellarmine and Simmons College before their real season debut against Nicholls on Nov. 8. But none of those options were available this year because the NCAA isn’t allowing exhibitions, in addition to shortening the regular season, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
So Mack came up with the idea of asking some ex-Cards to scrimmage the current team as they prepare for the opener against Evansville on Nov. 25 in the Wade Houston Tipoff Classic.
He said recently that he planned to have Ryan McMahon, Dwayne Sutton, Larry O’Bannon and current grad assistant Christen Cunningham, among others, go against the Cards this week to provide a test similar to the one the Buckeyes presented.
“I don’t necessarily think our guys were reading the preseason accolades prior to the year, but they were out there, anointing you as a top 5, top 10 team,” Mack said of the 2020 team that was ranked No. 5 in both major preseason polls. “And we got our clocks cleaned in the first half, down 24 points, and I don’t even know if it was that close. We ended up playing much better in the second half, but not enough to close the gap. I think at that point, we had some guys really wake up and get a lot better.”
McMahon and Sutton played on last year’s team, while Cunningham was a member of the 2019 squad and O’Bannon played on Louisville’s 2005 Final Four club. Those were the only players Mack mentioned at the time.
“That will give us a real good sense because we’re going to be playing against guys like Dwayne Sutton in other programs,” Mack said. “Guys that can shoot like Ryan McMahon, Christen Cunningham with the ability to get in the lane. And there are a couple other guys that are going to be really big challenges for our team, and we need those challenges.”
UofL lost most of its key players from last season, the exceptions being center Malik Williams, guard David Johnson and forward Samuel Williamson. But Williams, the only full-time starter in that trio, is sidelined for three months with a broken foot. There are eight newcomers on the Cards’ roster — six freshmen and two grad transfers — and six of the other players are sophomores.
“You get to know who you’re playing against every day, their strengths and weaknesses, but this will be as good a game match as we can get prior to our season,” Mack said. “Nobody wants to fail, whether it’s a game of one-on-one or the game itself, but failure is the best teacher. It teaches humility certainly and gives you the ability to learn how you need to do things better or what your approach needs to be, how much stronger and what kind of angle you should take defensively. And we need to learn those things from guys that are a little bit more accomplished than our players collegiately, and we’re gonna get that from the guys we’ll bring in (this week).”
CARDS ADD WHEELER, NOW HAVE TOP-10 CLASS
Louisville added its fifth recruit for the 2021-22 season Tuesday when Roosevelt “Big Rose” Wheeler, a 6-10, 240-pound foward/center from Richmond, Va., signed with the Cards and boosted their class to Top-10 in the nation. Rivals.com ranks the group sixth, while 247sports.com tabs it 10th.
Wheeler averaged 15.8 points, 11.9 rebounds and 4.3 blocked shots as a junior on a John Marshall High School team with five players who averaged double figures in scoring and won the Virginia 2A state championship with a 23-2 record.
“Roosevelt is a load,” Mack said. “He has ability, but the one thing that sticks out about Rose is his motor and his toughness. He is not afraid to put his nose in a scrum. His agility for his size will be an asset in the ACC. He has the ability to score, command a double-team and rebound.”
UofL’s other signees are 6-3 guard El Ellis; 6-6 guard/forward Mike James; 6-1 guard Bobby Pettiford; and 6-8 guard/forward Eric Van der Heijden
NWORA PROJECTED NBA SECOND ROUND PICK
Former UofL standout Jordan Nwora is projected as an early-to-mid-second round pick in Wednesday’s NBA draft (7 p.m. EST, ESPN), according to multiple draft predictions that rank players 1-60 for the 30 NBA teams.
Some prominent examples: Bleacher Report has Nwora going at No. 35 to the Sacramento Kings; Sports Illustrated, No. 36, Philadelphia 76ers; CBSSports.com, No. 46, Portland Trailblazers; and NBADraft.Net, No. 50, Atlanta Hawks (from Miami Heat).
The 6-7 Nwora averaged 18.0 points and 7.7 rebounds as a junior forward for the Cards last season while shooting 44.0%, including 40.2% from 3-point range (76-189).
U of L RANKS HIGH ACADEMICALLY
Louisville student-athletes continued to earn academic success in the latest national graduation rates released by the NCAA.
UofL achieved a record 91% graduation rate to match the Cardinals’ best mark in the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) Report, which was developed 16 years ago to account for transfers into the university who graduate and those who leave in good academic standing. Their GSR, most recently reported for freshmen who entered in the 2013-14 academic year, has risen 25% since the reporting began 16 years ago.
Seventeen of Louisville’s 23 sports attained a GSR above 80% in the most recent report, including baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s golf, women’s lacrosse, women’s rowing, women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s swimming, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball.
All UofL student athletes have combined to produce an average grade point average of 3.0 or better for each of the last 19 straight semesters, achieving a collective 3.332 GPA for the 2019-20 academic year.