One step forward two steps back: Louisville basketball loses top commit

The impact of Louisville basketball losing their top commitment in 2021.

Back in November when little known 2021 forward Bryce Hopkins announced his intentions to shut down his recruitment and commit to Louisville basketball, no one really knew what the Cards were gaining for their future.

In the world of recruiting it can be difficult to look ahead to classes that aren’t in the current cycle, and when Hopkins committed, not only was head coach Chris Mack and his staff in the midst of recruiting some of the top players in the class of 2020 but they were also attempting to finish out the current season on the floor in hopes of a making it to the Final Four. Hopkins was one of the first players in the class of 2021 to pull the trigger and was the earliest that Mack had secured a player in a later class since taking over as head coach at Louisville.

As time went on and we learned more and more about the player that was Hopkins, it was quickly realized just how lucky Louisville was to have landed his services. At the time of his commitment, the 6’7 combo forward was ranked in the bottom third of the top 100 and only had offers from a few other power five programs. However, the more reviews that trickled in from people who had seen him play, the more it was to be understood that Mack hadn’t scored big time.

It took a little over 200 days, but finally Louisville picked up a second commitment in the class of 2021 after Hopkins got them going early, and then before you knew it the Cards had the no. 2 class in the country and the talk about recruiting slowing down due to impending NCAA punishment began to be an afterthought.

Back in June when Mack and his staff were just about to embark on their run on commitments I wrote about Hopkins and how important it was going to be to hang on to him – especially after his meteoric rise from the mid-to-late 70s to the top 30. Here’s a short excerpt from that piece:

With that type of jump combined with the penalty that is expected to be handed down from the NCAA, it is to be expected that Hopkins will soon start hearing from the typical blue blood programs like Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, and Kentucky. As we’ve seen, negative recruiting from other head coaches can be just as effective as actual recruiting and it wouldn’t be surprising in the least to see schools try and push Hopkins towards a decommitment.

Hopkins would have an easy path to playing time in Louisville due to his skill and the program’s need for a true power forward, but would he want to deal with the potential of missing the biggest stage in college basketball? That’s what worries me.

As of yet, there haven’t been any reports that Hopkins is looking to decommit or that other programs have gotten involved but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, especially once recruiting picks back up prior to the early signing period.

Keeping Hopkins in the fold is probably going to end up being the most important part of the recruiting battle this summer for Chris Mack.

Hopkins officially announced what I feared could happen on Sunday when he told 247 Sports that he was decommitting due to uncertainties about the future. Hopkins told Brian Snow:

“I opened up my recruitment because there were a lot of uncertainties on what is going on with the sanctions. They also keep appealing (the sanctions) which is only making it harder on me.”

So what’s next for Louisville basketball?

Thankfully, the cupboard isn’t empty as Mack holds three commitments in the class of 2021 outside of Hopkins including guards El Ellis and Bobby Pettiford Jr. and combo forward, Eric Van Der Hejiden, but the loss of Hopkins will sting.

By all accounts, Hopkins has been one of the country’s most improved players and likely would’ve come in and competed for a starting role and a ton of playing time right away. His ability to score both off the dribble and from deep makes him a versatile scoring forward who has the potential to become an elite college basketball player.

Now Mack will be left with a huge void on the wing and more questions than answers about the timeline of the NCAA’s punishment and what the future holds for the Cards. To act like this is a “shock” may be naïve, as I think we can all agree that there was bound to be some negative impact on the program because of a likely tournament ban. Still, the timing of Hopkins’ announcement comes with some concern especially after Louisville recently asked for a 45-day extension to respond to the NCAA’s initial Notice of Allegations.

Hopkins decommitment and comments send a loud message to the rest of the recruits in the fold for Louisville and now there has to be more worry about whether or not Mack and his staff will be able to keep the current class together.

Every player has commented about their relationship with the coaching staff and how important that was in their recruitment, which hopefully should go a long way in keeping commitments, but for Hopkins it makes sense that he’d want to see what else may be out there.

Ranked as the no. 33 player in the 247 Sports Composite rankings, Hopkins is bound to start hearing from the big names in college basketball. Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and others will all come calling at some point, and you can’t fault an 18 year old not wanting to deal with the long and drawn out conclusion of Louisville’s drama with the NCAA with those schools on board.

While he’s not likely to be a one and done player, Hopkins has the skill level and body to be a factor right away and instead of doing so for Louisville he’ll likely end up suiting up for a college basketball blue blood.

Next: Hey, NCAA! We've got three ideas for the college basketball season

There are still options on the board, which we’ll explore over the coming days, but it’s another sobering reminder that there are still dark days ahead for the Louisville basketball program.

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