Louisville basketball: Chris Mack still looking at transfer market

Louisville basketball recently reached out to a promising mid-major transfer.

After Chris Mack and the Louisville basketball program recently added three-star forward Gabe Wiznitzer, who moved up from the class of 2021 to 2020 in order to join the squad and redshirt, it appeared that the roster was set.

With one scholarship being withheld to fulfill the NCAA’s scholarship reduction penalty on the program, Mack’s full allotment of available scholarships appears to be used. However, that didn’t stop his staff from getting on the phone to express their interest in the latest big name into the transfer portal, Adam Kunkel.

Those that aren’t die hard college basketball fans may not be familiar with Kunkel, who has spent the last two seasons playing at Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference, but in 2019-2020 he developed into one of the best mid-major guards as a sophomore and looked poised to lead the program to big places in 2020-21.

Could Louisville basketball land Adam Kunkel?

Unfortunately for Belmont and head coach Casey Alexander, the news of Kunkel’s transfer means they won’t ever get that opportunity. Instead, another program (likely a high major) is going to reap the benefits of the transfer portal very late in the offseason.

The announcement to transfer a big surprise to most around college basketball and has quickly led some of the nation’s top coaches to reach out to Kunkel, in hopes of adding a guard who averaged 16.5 points per game, including 40 percent shooting from deep and was an OVCA All-First Team selection. Programs who reached out to the rising junior according to ESPN College Basketball Insider Jeff Borzello, included Louisville, Iowa State, St. John’s, Oklahoma, Dayton, Creighton, Arkansas, Cincinnati and what would you know, Kentucky.

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Louisville and Kentucky don’t typically recruit the same players along the recruiting trail, especially when it comes to transfers. While they both were in on Purdue big man transfer Matt Haarms earlier this spring, other than that they’ve really yet to see each other. Kunkel being the player that both programs pursue is interesting, but it makes sense considering he is a Kentucky native.

Playing at Cooper High School in Hebron, Kentucky, Kunkel was a selection to the 2018 Kentucky Boys Basketball All-State Team by the Courier Journal, hailed as one of the best players across all regions after he averaged over 20 points and nearly eight rebounds per game shooting an incredible 50 percent from the field, including 45 percent from deep. Despite that, Kunkel was overlooked by all of the major programs in the state and surrounding regions and he ultimately settled on playing for legendary coach Rick Byrd at Belmont.

Now the second time around the coaches who didn’t recruit Kunkel coming out of high school will get an opportunity to add an elite shooter and a guard with very good size at 6’3. His former high school coach, named Tim Sullivan, spoke with Jon Hale of the Courier Journal about Kunkel’s transfer and the amount of interest received and whether a move to be Louisville or Kentucky could be a possibility. He said:

“I think some college coaches that may not have looked at him in high school probably see what he’s done and the way he’s done it and where he’s done it at and they will take an interest in him,” I do think there’s a possibility that he could possibly end up at one of those spots.”

Louisville reaching out to Kunkel doesn’t make nearly as much sense as it does for Kentucky, who not only have scholarships available but also have his childhood allegiance going for them as well. As mentioned earlier, Mack does not hold any open scholarships at this point in time after filling the three he had available with graduate transfers Carlik Jones and Charles Minlend Jr., and the aforementioned Wiznitzer.

With that being the case, it doesn’t really make sense how Louisville would be able to add Kunkel, but with any big time talent you figure the details out later. With all 12 scholarship players already on campus, there’s no logical way another player could be added who wasn’t a preferred walk-on and with all the interest from high majors that wouldn’t make much sense for Kunkel.

However, if something changes or there’s another plan in place, Kunkel would be a solid fit for Louisville and could easily be a prominent player over his final two seasons. The transfer decision was one that many questioned, but Sullivan (Kunkel’s high school coach) told Hale of the CJ that the pandemic had a big impact on his announcement to move on. Hale wrote:

“The possibility of a shortened season weighed on Kunkel’s mind when considering his transfer options, Sullivan said. Kunkel had enrolled at Belmont expecting he might redshirt as a freshman in order to gain weight but earned a spot in the rotation instead.

Now, he could put in that extra work in the weight room after all while sitting out as a transfer. If the season is shortened, Kunkel will not have spent a year of eligibility playing fewer games.”

The shortened season thought makes sense, as Kunkel could sit out much less time than any usual transfer while having months to prepare in the weight room and spend time watching film and improving on parts of his game. Sullivan went on to tell Hale:

“Obviously getting his body bigger and stronger, I think, is a big thing.  think right now he can only do so much with having that 6-3, long, slender frame. Against some of those bigger boys, there’s only so much you can do.”

What makes Louisville the best fit for Kunkel right away is Strength & Conditioning Coach Andy Kettler, who has helped guys like Ryan McMahon, Quinn Slazinski, Samuell Williamson, and a ton of other players pack on layers of muscle to help improve their game by allowing them to play more physically.

Kunkel’s game obviously starts with his ability to get hot and score in truckloads but so far his biggest challenge has been his ability to pack on muscle and take his game up a notch athletically and physically.

It’s more likely that Kunkel ends up at Kentucky or one of the other programs who have recently reached out, but the fact that Mack reached out shows me he believes he needs more shooting from deep.

A 40 percent three-point shooter was something Louisville has had over the last few seasons with Jordan Nwora, but in 2020-21, the shooting from deep will be a big question mark that the multiple sophomores who return and the graduate transfers will have to prove they can answer.

If Kunkel were to transfer to Louisville or Kentucky, he could be more likely to receive immediate eligibility as many players who have transfferred during the pandemic have done so to be closer to home, which obviously would be the case here.

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He’d be a huge addition to the 2020-21 or 2021-22 teams with his outside shooting and ability to score, but can Louisville get an available scholarship?