The University of Louisville men’s basketball team has raced out to a 4-0 early season record, including wins over Seton Hall and Western Kentucky. The team’s unselfish play has contained high amounts of intensity and efficiency; however, preseason reports and rankings had the Cardinals lower than usual, mainly due to uncertainties regarding the youth development. One conversation leads to another, and fingers start pointing back to recruiting successes, or the alleged lack thereof. So the question to be answered now becomes, is Chris Mack recruiting at a successful level? Furthermore, what parameters define “success”?
Star ratings are nice and all, but success on the court is what matters the most. For the record, I criticized Mack back in the early summer for missing on a handful of recruits; after consideration, I came to the realization that I was analyzing things from a shallow, biased perspective. The reality of the situation is that he is not working with a full deck, due to the fact that the NCAA cloud is still looming over the university. With three classes now under his belt at Louisville, Mack’s recruiting style is becoming clear: go after players that can execute a role in the designed system.
Many look at that trend as a turn-off because it hasn’t netted many highly-rated recruits (top-30), but the NCAA cloud does serve as a factor in that. Additionally, Rick Pitino rarely ever landed five-star talent despite being extremely successful at Louisville. I am not trying to argue that Mack is on the same level as Pitino, nor am I saying that bringing in top talent is a bad thing, but I am explaining why getting players to fit a coach’s system should not be frowned upon. Besides, only two teams in the past decade have won a national title with predominantly one-and-done contributions (2012 Kentucky and 2015 Duke).
Let’s take a look at the roles each recruit has taken and how they’ve fared in Mack’s system (excluding graduate transfers).
G/F Samuell Williamson: 19th-overall (247Sports)
Mack’s highest-rated recruit, Williamson saw an exponential rise in the cycle rankings. Overshadowed by NBA draft pick Jordan Nwora and Dwayne Sutton, he struggled to carve out a role as a freshman. Averaging 11.5 PPG and 4.5 RPG in two games so far this season, Williamson is looking to have a breakout campaign.
C Aidan Igiehon: 55th-overall (247Sports)
Nicknamed the ‘Irish Hulk’, Igiehon’s physical strength is remarkable; however, he did not see much of the court last year primarily due to injury. A significant injury to starting center Malik Williams means that Igiehon will need to take a step forward as he continues to develop on both ends of the floor.
G David Johnson: 82nd-overall (247Sports)
A hometown recruit, Johnson exploded onto the scene as a freshman when he led the Cardinals to victory on the road against a ranked Duke squad in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Fitting Mack’s desire for “big” guards, the 6-foot-5 point guard has shown the ability to see the floor extremely well and has been rumored as a possible first-round selection in 2021.
SG Josh Nickelberry: 101st-overall (247Sports)
Like Igiehon, Nickelberry has had an unfortunate relationship with the injury bug and will look to carve out a role in the rotation as a secondary ball-handler/shooter when he returns.
F Jae’Lyn Withers: 125th-overall (247Sports)
After redshirting last season, the talk around the program was that Withers was set for a breakout season. Now around the 6-foot-10 area, he is being tasked with replacing the veteran Williams. Through the first four games, he has contributed 11.8 and 7.3 points and rebounds per game, respectively. Outside of the box score, Withers has shown the ability to run the floor and set screens effectively.
F Quinn Slazinski: 320nd-overall (247Sports)
A vintage Chris Mack squad always has a sharpshooter: JP Macura, Ryan McMahon, etc. Despite being rated so low, Slazinski has shown the ability to not only execute his role as a shooter, but rebound significantly for his playing time.
Photo Courtesy of @DAndreDavis14 Twitter Account
F D’Andre Davis: 111st-overall (247Sports)
Despite it being early in the season, Davis is already looking like one of the recruiting cycle’s top steals. The 6-foot-5 swiss army knife is second on the team in points per game (12.5), and has resembled former Cardinal Dwayne Sutton in his high-intensity approach on both ends of the court.
Photo Courtesy of @JJTraynor20 Twitter Account
FF JJ Traynor: 126th-overall (247Sports)
Like Davis, Traynor has made an impact for the young Cardinals with his strong play securing a victory over Seton Hall last weekend. He still has a good amount of developing to do, but has shown flashes of great upside offensively and defensively due to his athleticism and length.
F Gabe Wiznitzer: 140th-overall (247Sports)
Wiznitzer originally belonged in the 2021 class before reclassifying to 2020 and joining Louisville immediately. It is unclear if he will see a significant role this season, but possesses the skillset and touch that Mack is looking for down low.
Photo Courtesy of @TeamLoadedBBall
C Roosevelt Wheeler: 64th-overall (247Sports)
With the possible departure of Williams, Louisville will turn to Wheeler to enhance frontcourt depth. The 6-foot-10 big makes his mark around the rim on both ends of the court thanks to his athleticism and strength, but shows flashes of being able to expand his range.
Photo Courtesy of @MichaelToReal0
F Michael James: 103rd-overall (247Sports)
Mack’s system calls for notable defense, and James fits the bill. Although his offensive skillset will need some fine tuning, he could carve out a role early on due to his imposing on-ball defense. Louisville fans, think Deng Adel.
Photo Courtesy of @Dhoops0 Twitter Account
G Bobby Pettiford Jr: 116th-overall (247Sports)
Injuries and the coronavirus prevented Pettiford from showing out on the AAU level, leaving him in an underrated category. He possesses a unique downhill speed that allows him to get to the rim proficiently, while he also utilizes solid court vision to find open teammates.
Photo Courtesy of tcceagles.com
G El Ellis: Top-overall JUCO prospect (247Sports)
Like Pettiford, Ellis’ vision will give him the ability to be a solid floor general at the next level; however, his ability to create his own offense and knock down the deep ball with impressive accuracy could see Ellis racking up ACC accolades during his time at Louisville.
Photo Courtesy of @eric_vdh23
F Eric Van Der Heijden: 179th-overall (247Sports)
It is likely that Van Der Heijden is being brought in for the same reason Slazinski was: to shoot the ball. However, the 6-foot-9 forward can set up teammates and find the open man often, which bodes well for his impact on the college game moving forward.