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    The NBA’s loss is the University of Louisville men’s basketball team’s gain. At least for this season.

    UofL junior forward Montrezl Harrell, who averaged 14 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last season, surprised many last spring when he decided not to declare of the NBA Draft. A 6-foot-8, 240-pound freakish athlete with the wingspan of a Pterodactyl and the ability to destroy rims in a single slam, Harrell was projected as a mid- to late-first round pick in the NBA Draft. However, he decided to return to school to improve his overall game as well as his draft position.

    “I kind of felt like I wasn’t ready to take that step to the NBA,” Harrell said recently at UofL’s media day. “I felt like I had different things in my game that I needed to work on and get better and mold me to be ready to take that step into the NBA.

    “The NBA is a business, if they bring you in and they feel like you can’t get the job done then you either go to the D-League or you get cut, and that’s not one of the places I want to be. I want to get to the NBA and be able to provide for a team, to be able to come off the bench or do whatever they need me to do to help the team win. I don’t want to be someone there just getting paid, I want to be someone there who is contributing. I feel like me coming back to school that’s going to help me this next year when the draft comes around.”

    Harrell, who is already a projected lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft, worked diligently in the offseason. Known for his high-percentage shots (i.e. his monster dunks, like the one against Michigan in the national championship game) Harrell, who shot 60.9 percent from the field last season, has been trying to extend his shooting range. He’s showed off a new-and-improved 3-point stroke in the preseason.

    Harrell was 3 for 5 from long range in Louisville’s first Red-White scrimmage and 1-for-7 (7?!) in the second. He cut down on his attempts in UofL’s two exhibition games, going a combined 1-for-4.

    “He’s added a 3-point shot that is very scary right now,” senior point guard Chris Jones said at media day. “He’s shooting it consistently, so he’s got to keep it up. I think he’ll be a stretch four this year.”

    Harrell, who also figures to get to the free throw line (he was second on the squad with 153 trips there last season) quite a bit this season, has also worked on improving his shooting there too after making only 46.4 percent of his attempts last season.

    “He’s worked really, really hard on his free throw shooting, his shooting (in general and) his three-point shooting,” UofL coach Rick Pitino said. “He’s worked really hard on all phases of the game. I still want to see him get in the low post and make some good low-post moves as well. But I thought (against Bellarmine) he played really well. I didn’t think he played necessarily like he did last year in the first (exhibition) game, but I think he was more like himself from the second game.”

    Harrell, who has been named a preseason All-American by pretty much every national publication, will try to mix his old game with his new game Friday night, when UofL opens its season against Minnesota at 7:30 p.m. in the Armed Forces Classic in Borinquen, Puerto Rico.

    “Montrezl is everything a first-team All-American should be,” Pitino said. “He’s worked at making his game better, very similar to Gorgui (Dieng), I’m really proud of him.”

    Photo courtesy University of Louisville Men’s Basketball Facebook Page

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