By Josh Cook
Even though he's losing his top three scorers from this past season's team University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino isn't looking to the 2010-11 campaign as a rebuilding one.
But he's not looking at it as one in which the Cardinals will reload either.
Instead, he's looking at next season as a "rebranding." That despite the fact that UofL unexpectedly lost last season's leading scorer and rebounder (Samardo Samuels) to early entry in the NBA Draft.
"We're very excited, not that Samardo's leaving, but we're very excited that we're going to get back to the way we want to play this game," Pitino said at a Wednesday press conference. "We've very excited about the new arena and I think we're going to have an athletic ball club that is going to be exciting for the fans. We can't wait to get to work with what we call rebranding, we're certainly going to get back to what we do best.
"We're going to get back to the way we used to play as the kamikaze kids, where we are all over the place offensively and defensively with constant pressure, getting out in the open court because we are rebuilding our brand, our image. We're not rebuilding like IU (Indiana University) is rebuilding, where they're depleted and they've got to do it in scratch. We are rebuilding, though, because we're rebuilding our offense. We're losing a lot of points and we've got to get our points off our defense this year. But we can go back to playing the style I enjoy coaching so much. It does demand quickness, laterally as well as up and down, and we're going to have it."
The Cards will have that with key returnees Jared Swopshire, Preston Knowles, Terrence Jennings, Kyle Kuric, Peyton Siva (pictured) and Rakeem Buckles as well as newcomers Justin Coleman, Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith and Elisha Justice.
"We're a very deep team. We've got good size, we've got good athleticism," Pitino said. "The biggest question mark is going to be that point guard spot because Peyton's really got to have a great summer...He's such a tremendous young man there's no doubt in my mind that he'll make it."
The 6-0 point guard averaged 3.9 points and 1.8 assists as a freshman filling in for Edgar Sosa. With Sosa and Jerry Smith, the team's second- and third-leading scorers, graduating Siva is slated to step into the role as UofL's full-time playmaker. And he'll get a good start at that this month when he plays with a team of college all-stars for Reach USA, a part of Sports Reach whose purpose is reaching the world through sports, in China. The team, which also includes a pair of University of Kentucky players (Josh Harrellson and Jon Hood) and Western Kentucky University's Steffphon Pettigrew, will play nine games against teams from the Chinese Basketball Association from May 14-31.
The player, though, who is likely to benefit the most from Samuels' early departure is Jennings. The 6-10 center averaged 5.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game and led the team with 40 blocked shots last season as Samuels' backup. Pitino tried to use the two big men together for brief stints last season, but "it just never worked playing those guys together, offensively it was a nightmare it was so easy to double them," Pitino said Wednesday. "It was so easy to take them out of it."
And though Jennings had a tendency to take himself out of games last season (he averaged just 13.2 minutes per game) by getting into foul trouble or by his occasional lackadaisical play, Pitino doesn't think that will be the case next season.
"This is an opportunity, and I firmly believe this, for TJ to get what he deserves a little bit," the UofL coach said. "Because I've noticed a drastic change in his attitude since he heard that Samardo may go pro. TJ does have tremendous potential. He's got to realize his potential by playing the way I expect him to play.
"I told him, 'You can't physically look like (Phoenix Suns star) Amare Stoudemire, but you've got to try to play like Amare Stoudemire.' He's got to do what he does best, out-run big people, block shots, rebound and be a defensive terror. He won't score like Samardo scores, but he will change the game...There's nothing that motivates you more than playing time."
Another player who should see more playing time is 6-8 forward Jared Swopshire. He averaged 7.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 25 minutes per game last season as a sophomore.
"I firmly believe that Jared Swopshire will be a great basketball player here, I stake my reputation on that," said Pitino, who also praised Swopshire's work ethic. "This young man's (workout) routine...he belongs in the military."
Wednesday's press conference was also a chance for Pitino to announce the signings of 6-5 wing player Justin Coleman from Huntington (W.V.) Prep and 5-10 guard Elisha Justice, the Kentucky high school Mr. Basketball who led Shelby Valley to the state championship in March.
Coleman has yet to qualify academically, but if he does he could contribute immediately for the Cards. Coleman averaged 20.3 points and 7.4 rebounds as a senior at Huntington Prep and scored 24 points and won the slam dunk contest at April 10's Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic at Freedom Hall.
Meanwhile Justice, who Pitino has nicknamed "The Bullet," averaged 20.1 points and 5.9 assists in leading the Wildcats to their first Sweet Sixteen title.
"He is as dedicated a young man as I've seen since the likes of Billy Donovan," Pitino said. "I haven't seen someone with his work ethic in a long, long time.
"Guys like Rak(eem), Jared, Peyton Siva and the Bullet, they make it because of their work ethic...next year's team is going to play, you're going to see, is going to epitomize what we're all about."
2010-11 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS AT A GLANCE
Peyton Siva, 6-0, Soph, G, 3.9 ppg, 1.8 apg last season.
Preston Knowles, 6-1, Sr., G, 7.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg.
Terrence Jennings, 6-10, Jr., C, 5.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg.
Jared Swopshire, 6-8, Jr., F, 7.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg.
Kyle Kuric, 6-4, Jr., G-F, 4 ppg, 2.5 rpg.
Rakeem Buckles, 6-8, Soph., F, 3.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg.
Mike Marra, 6-5, Soph., G, 3.1 ppg.
Chris Smith, 6-2, Jr., G, Manhattan transfer
George Goode 6-8, Jr., F-C, 0.7 ppg, 1.2 rpg.
Stephan Van Treese 6-9, Soph., F-C, 0.5 ppg, 0.6 rpg.
Justin Coleman, 6-5, Fr., G-F.
Gorgui Dieng, 6-10, Fr., F-C.
Russ Smith, 6-2, Fr., G.
Elisha Justice, 5-10, Fr., G.
Photo courtesy University of Louisville