In this week’s episode, U of L hoops writer Jeff Greer’s extended thoughts on Donovan Mitchell’s NBA future. The conversation then turns to Deng Adel, V.J. King, Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud and where they may be in future draft discussions.
Jeff Greer/The C-J
After the return of an improved Deng Adel and the addition of McDonald’s All American Brian Bowen, Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said Monday that the 2017-18 Cardinals have gone from a “7-plus or 8-plus” on a scale of 10 to a “9-plus (or) a 10 right now.”
Pitino, in an interview with WHAS-840’s Terry Meiners (linked here from the ‘Louisville First’ podcast, said this might be the most athletic team he has coached at Louisville and possesses the most “athletic talent” of any team he’s had since the 1996 Kentucky national title team.
U of L must learn to be a great defensive and passing team, Pitino said, “but this team, in terms of length, talent, athleticism, is loaded. Now we’ve got to understand how to play the game the right way. They’re a great group of guys.”
The group grew by one this past week as U of L pulled off a late recruiting surprise by landing the five-star wing Bowen, of La Lumiere prep school in Indiana, after an unofficial visit to campus.
More: Scouting report: Louisville basketball pledge Brian Bowen
More: CardsHQ Podcast: The special Brian Bowen edition
“In my 40-some-odd years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve ever been,” Pitino said. “I won the Kentucky Derby with my friend (Always Dreaming owner Anthony Bonomo) winning it, and now this is much better. My friend wouldn’t think so, but I do.”
Though the Cards weren’t considered contenders for Bowen at the time, Pitino watched Bowen last season in La Lumiere’s rout of New Albany High School, which features top U of L 2018 target Romeo Langford. Pitino said he got a recent call from Bowen’s AAU coach if the Cards would be interested in him, and clearly they were.
Pitino called Bowen “a great ball-handler, terrific passer, outstanding shooter and great scorer” who understands how to play the game.
Pitino described Bowen, who goes by the nickname “Tugs,” as “like a 6-7½ -inch version of Luke Hancock, except a little better athlete.”
“He’s a terrific young man,” Pitino said. “He has terrific parents, and he won the national championship this year at the prep-school level and playing an unbelievable schedule. They beat the great team from Indiana who won the state championship by 25 or 30 points. He was one of their better basketball players, and I watched him play. It fell into our lap, and we got very lucky, and every once in a while, you need a little luck.”
More: For Louisville basketball’s recruiting, it’s Romeo Langford … then who?
Adel, the rising junior who tested the NBA draft waters before electing to return to school, shapes up as the leader of the team, the coach said.
“I think this is Deng Adel’s team,” Pitino said. “Deng came back, and he wanted to be a lottery pick, and, by the way, he looks awesome right now. …. That’s not to take anything away from Quentin Snider because Q’s playing great. But Q is very quiet. Q is not going to bark a lot of orders, but Deng Adel is going to speak out.”
In early summer practices, Pitino said, sophomore V.J. King has also looked “awesome,” and he said Snider has improved his speed and defense by working out with a speed coach.
More: Deng Adel makes NBA draft decision
Meiners asked Pitino on a scale of 1-10 where he would rate the Cards, who already were widely considered a top-15 team next season, before and after the addition of Bowen.
“I would say it was an 8 or 8-plus because Deng Adel has really become a special player, and he did the intelligent thing and said, ‘Look, this is my goal, and I’m going to achieve my goal,'” Pitino said. “And then V.J. King has really gotten a lot better. Anas (Mahmoud) and Ray Spalding, I think, are going to be big-time basketball players. … I think this team right now was a 7-plus or an 8-plus, and now they’re a 9-plus to a 10 right now.”