Taking a look at Louisville basketball’s recent classes.
Much has been made of Louisville basketball’s recent recruiting success and where current head coach Chris Mack stands in regards to recruiting at the highest level.
Are the Cardinals on track to have continued success over the next few years?
We thought we’d take a look at the numbers going back to when the Cardinals started really making noise under Rick Pitino and how he recruited in order to get his team to that point.
Below, we’ve listed out the classes for the past decade plus for the Cardinals.
Each year has Louisville basketball’s 247Sports Composite ratings. Next to that, I’ve listed the number of Top 100 players from that class. An asterisk (*) indicates a McDonald’s All-American.
This should give a better idea of how players were graded by experts versus overall recruiting rankings, which are watered down and less indicative of strength of classes overall.
Year | 247 Composite | (Top 100 Players) | *= All-American
2008- 87.21 (1) *
2009- 85.35 (2) *
2010- 91.41 (1)
2011- 96.19 (4) *
2012- 96.80 (1)
2013- 97.76 (3)
2014- 94.55 (4)
2015- 95.37 (3)
2016- 99.05 (1)*
2017- 96.08 (3)
2018- No Recruits
2019- 95.08 (3)
2020- 94.23 (0)
2021- 94.35 (2)
A few items of note before we dive into this.
First, Brian Bowen and Jay Scrubb were omitted because they never saw the floor for Louisville.
Next, Chris Jones and El Ellis were both counted as “Top 100” players because their 247 Composites reflected such, even though they are rated separately as JUCO players.
So, looking at this data, what does it tell us overall about the state of Louisville basketball recruiting? I think it can be best summed up by breaking recruiting periods into bite-sized chunks. Each piece will help us see a clearer picture.
Louisville basketball saw a sharp jump in recruiting from 2011-2014
The first thing to consider is where Louisville basketball sat at the turn of the century in terms of recruiting. The Cardinals saw serious growing pains in 2010 and 2011 because of a lack of instant-impact players on the recruiting trail in the years prior.
After the 2009 NCAA tournament, one where the Cardinals were the No. 1 overall seed, they lost Terrance Williams and Andre McGee to exhausted eligibility and Earl Clark to the NBA. The lack of instant-impact guys to replace Williams and Clark was enough to set Louisville back for 2-3 years.
Ultimately, Louisville basketball saw players like Kyle Kuric, Russ Smith, and Stephen Van Treese pan out, but these are players that took multiple years of development to pan out.
A healthy mixture of developmental players and instant-impact players is important
This brings us to the next point, which is that Louisville basketball saw its success peak under Rick Pitino when there was a solid mix of players that could get to the league in 2-3 years and guys who didn’t see significant playing time until they became upperclassmen.
This is important to note. Louisville was ultimately able to have some years with only one top 100 player because they followed up the next year with a handful of All-American level prospects.
The secret sauce to Pitino’s success at Louisville was not just landing the top players, it was landing an All-American every 2-3 years and finding complimentary developmental pieces to fit around them.
2012 and 2013 were the perfect examples of this for the Cardinals. In Louisville’s national title season, the Cardinals had a great mixture of All-American type of talent in Peyton Siva, Chane Behanan, and Wayne Blackshear combined with players who developed into contributors in Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng, Stephen Van Treese, Luke Hancock, and Kevin Ware.
Where Louisville basketball stands
Given what we know now, how does the current state of Louisville basketball recruiting compare to what the Cardinals have had in the past?
To start, Chris Mack’s squad in 2019-20 was built very similarly to some of Rick Pitino’s more successful teams. Young talented players in Sam Williamson and David Johnson mixed with older developmental players in Dwayne Sutton, Fresh Kimble, and Ryan McMahon.
One must also consider that the 2019 class that included Williamson and Johnson also had its own mix of players that will be brought along and have to improve as their careers progress in Quinn Slazinski, Aidan Igiehon, Jae’Lyn Withers, and Josh Nickelberry.
Where questions begin to arise in 2020 and beyond is around the development piece. Top 100 Aidan Igiehon was a bit of a developmental player but he never showed improvement throughout the season, then was sidelined for the back stretch the season with an injury. The others either redshirted or saw very limited playing time last year. How they come along remains to be seen.
The second concern is around the 2020 class. Louisville managed to land Jay Scrubb, one of the better JUCO products in the last decade, but he ultimately bolted for the league after initially signing with the Cards.
That means, for the first time in over a decade, Louisville didn’t sign a top 100 player in a recruiting class.
It’s fair to question the coaching staff when something that seems like a given fails to happen. However, Louisville had the pieces in place from a massive class in 2019 which afforded the staff a bit of a cushion.
Now, the onus is placed on the development of the 2019 class and solidifying the class of 2021.
In regards to 2019, the rising sophomores figure to play a massive role on a much younger 2020-21 team. Nickelberry, Slazinski, and Withers will all have to take significant steps forward from last season. Additionally, Igiehon will slide into a role with a lot more pressure for him to provide significant contributions and become a steady back-up.
The class of 2021 is beginning to take form nicely. Louisville has had what appears to be its future All-American in Bryce Hopkins in the fold since last fall. Hopkins’ 98.63 composite rating would make him the 15th-highest rated player to ever play for the Cards.
Additionally, Louisville has added the No. 1 JUCO player in the country, El Ellis, to the class. Add Bobby Pettiford, a rising point guard, and the Cardinals now have three players that would be rated as “Top 100” in the configuration above.
The coaching staff still has at least two more spots to fill, but, as it stands, Louisville has the No. 2 class in the nation, and sits at No. 1 in the ACC.
Louisville basketball recruiting is taking just about the same trajectory it did under Rick Pitino. It’s fair to be critical of the 2020 class, but Louisville is the development of two more players away from none of that mattering in the grand scheme of things.
Chris Mack has Louisville in a good place, and once some of the NCAA penalties are levied, and the Cardinals are recruiting on equal ground once again, they should be just fine going forward.