Cards could be facing active off-season

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- The coming offseason is going to be a time of change for Louisville's basketball team, reeling from being left out of the NCAA Tournament for only the third time when it has been eligible in the last 15 years.


Coach Chris Mack made that obvious during his wide-ranging media teleconference Monday afternoon, held primarily to discuss his reaction to the March Madness snub but venturing into subjects involving the future of his program going into his fourth season at the helm.


"There's certainly going to be changes," Mack said in response to whether he expects any roster or staff shakeups. "I think it's too close to the tough news we got (Sunday) night. Still trying to digest that. But some decisions are going to happen sooner than others. College basketball is all about change, and I think this offseason will reflect that."


It has already begun. A few hours before Mack spoke, little-used sophomore forward/center Aidan Igiehon informed him he was putting his name in the transfer portal, and Mack said he also expects transfer guard Charles Minlend to depart.


More exits are likely to follow, especially given the probability that the NCAA is going to approve a rule allowing one-time transfers to play immediately.


"I think in 2021 with the opportunity to play right away looming, I would not be surprised if there were some decisions made on our team," Mack said.


However, the two most important personnel matters won't be related to playing time, instead having to do with whether senior center Malik Williams, senior guard Carlick Jones and rising junior guard David Johnson decide to turn pro or return for another year of collegiate hoops.


None of the three has provided a clue about their future plans, but all could reasonably be expected to at least test the NBA waters.


Another season could benefit both Williams and Johnson. Williams may have to prove he is fully recovered from his broken foot after playing only 62 minutes in three games before reinjuring it. Johnson had an inconsistent season, which is reflected by his drop on NBAdraft.net from the first round  going into the season to a mid-2nd round pick at No. 46.


Jones is a different case. He may feel he has proven all he needs to on the college level and take a chance on free agency. Neither Williams or Jones is listed among the top 100 NBA prospects. Mack said Monday that he hadn't had a chance to talk with the pair about their futures.


"That's not something that's going to be hashed out in a day," Mack said. "I'd love to have both of those guys back, as you know. They're terrific players and great representatives of the university. But  we and they also have to look out for their future. We want what's best for them. Whether that's being in a Louisville uniform or moving forward professionally, we're going to be very supportive of that. But I don't really have an answer right now as far as what those guys are going to do."


With the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to winter sports athletes, Mack had said earlier  that Jones was "open-minded" about his option of returning next season. He said Monday he will encourage Jones to investigate his pro chances.


"If he were my son I'd want to get as much feedback as I could, and not make that decision (now), but when I have to make that decision," he said. "The good thing for our program is he's in essence a free scholarship that doesn't count against our 13 limit next year. But I think it's always wise, if there's a legitimate chance for you to play at that next level, to get as much feedback and give it the  best shot you can. So that's what my take would be for both those guys."


Jones' father, Carl Jones, told Courier-Journal writer Tim Sullivan that he has already discussed the possibility of his son returning to UofL for another season.


"If the NBA ain’t talking about what he’s talking about, I think he will come back," Carl Jones said. "He doesn’t want to go to no developmental G-League, any of that. He wants to play basketball."


As for Jones' backcourt partner, Mack seemed to suggest that Johnson could benefit from another season with the Cards similar to Jordan Nwora, who returned for his junior year, earned his degree and signed a guaranteed contract with the Milwauke Bucks after being drafted 45th last year.


"I want what's best for David Johnson," Mack said. "I don't know what that is yet. I don't think he even knows, because the process really gets crystallized when you put your name in and get feedback. You can hear draft board fodder or people in the know, but the NBA gives you the real feedback you need to know.


"So David's going to learn all of that with his family and the agent that helps him through that process legally, over the next couple of months. And I'll have a sit-down and be as involved with any of my players as they want, or as univolved. I'll give him my two cents. He may throw that two cents on the ground or he may listen. Everybody has to do what they feel like is in the best interests of their career, and I'll always be incredibly supportive of that."


If Johnson, Jones and Williams all decide to return, UofL could have one of its deepest, most talented teams in recent memory. The Cards' other returning scholarship players, at least at this point, are Dre Davis, Josh Nickelberry, Jae'Lyn Withers, JJ Traynor, Quinn Slazinski, Samuell Williamson and Gabe Wiznitzer. Those players accounted for all but 22 of the Cards' points and 15 of their rebounds this year.


Of course, as Mack indicated, it's doubtful all will return. Several might take a look UofL's 2021-22 Top-10 recruiting class and decide it's better to move on to greener pastures.


That class includes 6-3 JUCO guard El Ellis from Tallahassee Community College and high school products 6-6 swingman Mike James, 6-1 guard Bobby Pettiford, 6-8 swingman Eric Van der Heijden, 6-10 forward/center Rooosevelt Wheeler and Miami transfer Matt Cross, a 6-6 forward.


Although Cross's transfer had been reported by multiple media outlets, it was officially announced by UofL Wednesday. In 14 games as a freshman with the Hurricanes, Cross averaged 6.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and made 20-of-50 three-point attempts (40.0 percent). He scored 16 points in Miami's 78-72 win over the Cards on Jan. 16, then left the program 12 days later.


Under the ACC's new intraconference transfer rule announced Monday, Cross will be eligible immediately.


"We're excited to add one of the best shooters in the country to our program," Mack said in a statement. "Matt Cross will help our team a lot next season and beyond. He is a tough kid, is more than  just a shooter and has ACC experience from day one. Matt will arrive for summer school in June and provide some things our team was missing this past season. We can't wait to get him here."


The main thing Cross can boost is perimeter scoring. UofL's three-point shooting percentage of .308 was next-to-last in the conference and the second-worst in school history to the .307 by the 2015 team. The  Cards' 107 made trifectas was the lowest since the 1988 club hit just 84 during the second season the  arc was in use. UofL's record percentage from distance is .416 in 1993 when Dwayne Morton, Greg Minor and James (Boo) Brewer roamed the perimeter.

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

 

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