Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino woke up Monday morning to the news of his election into the basketball Hall of Fame. That night he coached his Cardinals to their third National Championship in school history while making history himself as being the only coach to win national championships at multiple schools (Kentucky in 1996). It’s truly a time of celebration here in Louisville. It has been 27 years since Denny Crum coached his team, lead by freshman Pervis Ellison and senior Milt Wagner, to Louisville second National Championship back in 1986. But as the fans continue their celebration, several U of L players now have an important decision to make, stay in school or enter the NBA draft. Unlike in past years, they now only have about a week to make that life changing decision.
Chane Behanan came to U of L as a McDonald’s All-American. His 15 pts. and 12 reb. performance against Michigan had me wondering if would be back next season or if he would be tempted to go pro. It seems by the quickness that he made his decision to come back for his junior year that it was an easy decision for him after all. While it seems that he has the strength and skills of an NBA prospect, his 6′-6” frame is small for a pro power forward.
Peyton Siva is a senior point guard. Despite his elite speed and passing abilities, his drawbacks of not possessing a reliable jump shot and being turnover prone probably will prevent him from being drafted. While he is considered a top 30 senior he is barely considered a top 100 overall prospect in the upcoming draft, according to reports. Coach Pitino has often compared him to Florida head coach Billy Donovan so you may one day see him roaming the sidelines as a head coach.
Russ Smith’s father was quoted shortly after the game Monday night as to saying that his son was headed for the NBA draft. The timing seems right coming off of a national championship and while people are still talking about his game. However coach Pitino did his due diligence and applied for NBA assessments and shared those reports with Russ. According to the latest local Pitino interviews, he says his All Big East junior guard is now 60/40 coming back for his senior year. Russ has come along way in his three years at Louisville. After his freshman season he was rumored to be following Assistant coach Steve Masiello when he took the head coaching job at Manhattan College. He stayed and worked hard in the offseason on his game and in the weight room. He made a name for himself by scoring 30+ points against the Anthony Davis led Kentucky Wildcats in his sophomore season. He improved his game further during his junior season and began to alter his reputation as an erratic ball-hog to being more of a controlled chaos type of player. He has many attributes that the NBA is looking for such as his outstanding instincts at both ends of the court, excellent speed, ball handling skills and he is a terrific transition player. His unpredictableness and aggressive style of play makes him an entertaining player. He needs to work on his decision-making, ball distribution and jump shot or his 6′ 160 lbs frame may keep him a second draft pick.
Gorgui Dieng seems to be the most ready NBA prospect from this NC team. He is also the one who would most rather come back and graduate before going pro. The 6’11” 245 lbs junior center with a 7’6” wingspan hails from Kebemer, Senegal and grew up playing soccer. He learned to speak English in about two months, education is a high priority in his family. Despite playing basketball for only a few years, arriving in America in 2009, he has matured quickly and still has tremendous potential. His most notable attributes are for being a shot blocker, he is U of L single season blocks leader, and a tremendous passer from the post. He has an effective hook shot, turn around jumper and he finishes well. Already being 23 years old, this may be the best time for him to go pro. The mock drafts has him as the 17th pick.
With or without Smith and/or Dieng, Louisville is poised to make a run at a repeat with a top 10 recruiting class coming in to complement their returning players. If Kevin Ware is unable to make a comeback next season however, Russ Smith could provide a critical experience to its group of incoming freshman guards. I want to thank everyone for giving me this opportunity to talk about one of my passions, University of Louisville sports.