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For top college basketball coaches like Louisville’s Rick Pitino, modern-day developments have made it tougher than ever to maintain a balanced roster. The climate of uncertainty caused by early exits to the NBA is one reason the Cardinals recently signed 6-1 Preston Knowles (ClarkCounty) and welcomed 6-4 transfer Reginald Delk (Mississippi State). They’ll join previously announced newcomers George Goode (6-8, F) and Clarence Holloway (7-1, C).

“We had a great recruiting class with Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith, Derrick Caracter and Earl Clark,” Pitino explained last week. “But before you know it, if our guys improve rapidly, they could be gone to the pros. That’s the way it is these days, so you have to have a plan.”

Years ago, coaches generally could count on most players to stay with their programs at least three or four years. Now, it’s wise for teams like Louisville to have a more short-term strategy even if they may have a top-five ranked recruiting class on the way next year like the Cards do.

“These days you assume that everyone’s going to leave early. You have to prepare for that,” said Pitino. “If they don’t go, that’s great and you’re ahead of the game.”

Soon the situation may get even more complicated. The NCAA is considering a rule that would permit players to accept paid visits to try out for NBA teams. A player could visit 22 NBA cities and still return to college.

“If you were the players, why wouldn’t you take those trips?” Pitino asked last week. “It would allow them to work out against some great players - that’s good for them and good for us. Most will probably realize ‘I’ve got a lot of work to do; it’s not for me.’ Chris Lofton just went through that at Tennessee, and he’s coming back for his senior year. That’s great. But we have to face it - there’s going to be quite a bit of turnover in our game from now on.”

Last year, U of L fans and coaches were very optimistic going into the season although the Cards were coming off some serious injuries and were very young. Louisville started slowly but rallied at season’s /files/storyimages/to earn a second seed in the Big East Tournament on the way to an NCAA Tournament berth.

While U of L will be a far more experienced and deeper squad next year, Pitino still felt the need to bolster his roster.

“We want to make sure we have some insurance,” he said. “We’ve had some major injuries in each of the past few years. We want to be certain if somebody gets hurt, we don’t ruin the season because we didn’t have someone ready to step in.”

That’s a big reason he signed Preston Knowles, a talented player from George Rogers Clark High School in Winchester, Ky., who averaged 21.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.2 steals as a senior while leading his team to a 26-8 record and the Region 10 title. Knowles shot 49 percent from the field, including 38.1 percent from three-point range, and made 71 percent of his free-throw attempts.

Preston could be redshirted or he could be the insurance we need, depending on how good he is,” said Pitino. “He’s a very physically tough kid, and he shoots the ball well. He’s a much better player than most of the people in our state realize. He sort of caught everybody by surprise and came on strong at the /files/storyimages/of the year.

“Our coaches and players are convinced Preston is exactly what we need. He’s tough, he’s very aggressive and he’s extremely emotional. Like Sosa, he will come to practice every day, play hard and then go to that padded cell afterward,” added Pitino with a smile.

Last week, the Cards’ coach announced that Reginald Delk, the nephew of former UK hoop star Tony Delk, will join the U of L program after starting the last two seasons at MississippiState where he averaged 9.5 points and 2.0 rebounds as a sophomore. Delk was a national top-50 prep prospect at North Side High in Jackson, Tenn.

The newcomer will practice with the Cards but can’t play in games until the 2008-09 season. Still, he will strengthen Louisville’s roster for the near future.

“When you take a transfer, you know you’re getting a more mature person; you’re not getting the frailties of a high school basketball player. He totally understands why he’s here,” said Pitino. “I love taking transfers, as long as they’re looking for something other than just more playing time.”

Overall, the Cards’ coach doesn’t bemoan the attraction the NBA has for his players; he sees it as reality and embraces it.

“I want all my players to think they’re going to be pros,” he said. “I enjoy that because I want highly-motivated people in our program who aspire to both play professionally and earn their degrees. I think everyone on our team except for Will Scott and Stu Miller are thinking very strongly of being pros. Of course, those two have big plans for the business world.”

Dreams of stardom on the court also come with added responsibilities, according to Pitino.

“I want our guys to be driven people, but they have to work accordingly,” he said. “That means when school is out in a few weeks, they need to go home, work hard every single day and be passionate, hungry and driven.”

Pitino advises his players to look at things in a business sense and urges them to take care of their academics which will provide payoffs in the future. And he stresses the value of team success.

“If you win as a team, then the individual glory will come. That’s what they all understand,” he said. “Our guys look at Florida and the teams that won big, and they see those fellows are set to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Everybody gets their rewards when they win big.”

Steiner is a syndicated columnist based in Louisville. He also appears on the Red & Blue Review television program (weekly on Insight Ch. 2) with host Garry Gupton and guest Darrell Bird of the Cat's Pause. Steiner can be reached by phone at 384-6546 or by e-mail at [email protected]. 

 

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