Cards land top point guard; Elliott, Smith return on mound

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- It's been a big week for two sports programs at the University of Louisville -- the men's basketball team and the baseball squad.


It started Monday night when 6-11 Gabe Wiznitzer from Hargrave Military Academy announced his commitment to coach Chris Mack's basketball team and indicated he will reclassify for the 20-20-21 season.


Then on Wednesday, the Cardinals landed one of the nation's most sought-after junior college players in 6-3 point guard El Ellis of Tallahassee Community College for the 2021 class. And the baseball team also got good news the same day when key pitchers Adam Elliott and Luke Smith both announced they will return for the 2021 season, rather than sign as pro baseball free agents.


UofL was a late arrival in the recruitment of Ellis, who wound up with 20 offers. Assistant coach Dino Gaudio watched Ellis for the first time when the Cards were in Tallahassee to play Florida State on Feb. 24. UofL offered Ellis in mid-March.


"Coach Mack said they wanted a guard who can play fast and he thinks I can come in and make an impact," Ellis told 247sports.com. "They need a guard and he said if David Johnson is still around I could come in and we could both play on or off the ball. I think I'm versatile enough to do that.


"I know Louisville's always had great players and always made a run in the tournament. Louisville is a big-time program and they recruit pros. If Louisville is recruting you, then there's a real possibility of you being a pro. Louisville was a perfect situation for me and the ACC is one of the best conferences in America.


A native of Durham, N.C., Ellis chose Louisville from a list of finalists that included Georgia, Ole Miss, Oregon, Connecticut, Texas Tech and Iowa State.


Ellis was named Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year in the Panhandle Conference this past season after leading the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game and assists (4.4) and also averaging 4.0 rebounds. He shot 48.3 percent overall, including 41.4 from 3-point range. Coming out of high school at
Quality Education Academy, Ellis didn't qualify academically for a Division I school, which is why he opted for the JUCO route.


Tallahassee CC is coached by Louisville native Zach Settembre, who was the head coach for one season at Louisville Collegiate and also served as an assistant at Iroquois and Ballard High Schools, and Kentucky Wesleyan University.


ELLIOTT, SMITH EYE CHAMPIONSHIP


Elliott and Smith took advantage of the NCAA ruling that allows seniors in baseball an additional year of eligibility due to the Covid-19 pandemic that forced a shutdown of the season in mid-March. Both said they returned in large part due to unfinished business -- the desire to help the Cards advance to the College World Series after being one of the favorites this year. Elliott is expected to anchor the bullpen in 2021 along with Michael Kirian, while Smith will compete to be the Friday starter.


"There were a lot of factors, especially over the past few weeks when I kind of had to weigh my options," Elliott said. "I guess the biggest thing for me coming back was probably wanting to win a national championship. That was tough and kind of left a bitter taste in my mouth having it end like we did.


"So it was definitely something I wanted to come back and do. Also the uncertainty when it comes to the minor league system right now and signing as a free agent. I was weighing those factors too, but winning a national championship was probably the biggest factor. I had some interest from some teams, but overall, I just felt coming back was the best thing for me."


Elliott, a lefthander, has pitched in 67 career games with a 6-3 overall record and two saves. He has 89 strikeouts in 86 innings and a career ERA of 1.88, which ranks third-best in UofL history. In his abbreviated season he had posted an 0.87 ERA, allowing just one one in 10.1 innings with 14 strikeouts. He said the Arizona Diamondbacks, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox had shown the most interest.


"But when it came down to it, I felt like if they want me they can draft me next year," he said.


Smith, also a righthander, has played two years at UofL after transferring from Parkland College. The Champaign, Ill., native has a 9-1 record in 22 career appearances. He was 6-1 in 2019, during which he recorded the two longest postseason appearances in Louisville history with 8.1 innings in an NCAA Regional elimination game against Illinois State and again at the CWS vs. Vanderbilt. As the Sunday starter this year, Smith was 3-0 with 18 strikeouts in 23.2 innings.


Smith said he got a call from the San Diego Padres on draft day, and had also had conversations with the Cincinnati Reds.


"Free agency was something that before the draft got started I wasn't really going to consider," Smith said. "And then once it was over, it was the same thing. Ultimately, the opportunity to come back to school and compete for a national championship one more time outweighed free agency.


"Playing professional baseball has been a dream of mine since I could walk. Having that opportunity at the tip of my fingers, it was definitely a tough decision, but at the same time I'm coming back to an excellent program with a great team for next year. Our potential is through the roof."

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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