Nobody promised new Louisville head coach Chris Mack a rose garden when he arrived to take over for disgraced former Cards head coach Rick Pitino. Though Mack’s reputation as a fine coach and solid recruiter precedes himself, Louisville’s reputation as a renegade basketball program precedes it, too. And despite Mack’s determination to turn the Cards back into a national championship contender, he’s going to face numerous hurdles in the short term.
U of L was quick to make Mack one of the nation’s highest-paid coaches when they pulled him away from Xavier, where he turned the Muskateers into a perennial powerhouse and a No. 1 seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. But after watching longtime Louisville commitment Courtney Ramey commit to Texas, Mack saw another top U of L target – Macio Teague – choose elsewhere. Teague, a transfer from UNC-Asheville, chose Baylor over the Cardinals.
U of L made a renewed push to get Ramey back on board with the Cards following Mack’s hiring, while also trying to snag a potential impact guard, though Teague will have to sit out the 2018-19 season as a transfer.
As it stands, Louisville has no scholarship signees in the 2018 class, and no 2019 commitments. The Cards have lost numerous key contributors, including the exhausted eligibility of point guard Quentin Snider, and the decisions by Deng Adel and Ray Spalding to enter the NBA Draft. As such, the Cards are staring at a glaring lack of depth and personnel heading into the 2018-19 season.
Fear of the unknown
Part of the concern with U of L right now among recruits has absolutely nothing to do with Mack.
Fearful of potential continued NCAA sanctions as a result of the Adidas FBI probe, top prospects are worried that they may be placed in a position similar to the 2015-16 Louisville squad, who learned late in the regular season that they would be forced to miss the 2016 NCAA Tournament as the school self-vacated that appearance.
Mack can call North Carolina’s Roy Williams to get a grim but realistic assessment of how it goes for a college basketball heavyweight when they’re under an ongoing cloud of NCAA suspicion, with no short-term time frame for a resolution.
UNC struggled for five years to attract elite talent. 2018 signee Nassir Little was the first consensus top 10 recruit to choose UNC since Justin Jackson back in 2014.
And as it turned out, the Tar Heels were facing a molehill with its academic scandal as it related to the NCAA, in comparison to Louisville’s allegations of paying in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars for top prospects such as Brian Bowen.
Until things stabilize at Louisville – which is to say, until the NCAA makes its final judgment on the Cards – this will be the way it goes. It will be very difficult for U of L to secure talent, and it will be a hard sell for Mack and his assistant coaches for the foreseeable future to convince top prospects that the Cards are back on their way up.