Louisville basketball fans had a lot to be excited about in the summer of 2011, looking forward to a preseason top 10 team featuring a premier incoming recruiting class as indicated by Scout.com. At the time, it was arguably Rick Pitino's best collective haul of talent in his time with the Cardinals. A pair of 5-star McDonald's All-Americans, a pair of 4-star recruits, and a 3-star prospect that immediately drew comparisons to Francisco Garcia rightfully gave the fanbase increased patience for Pitino to get back to a Final Four rather than the consecutive first round exits they had just experienced.
Let's take a stroll down memory lane with each of the 5-man 2011 recruiting class:
Wayne was the highest-ranked recruit of the class and the highest-ranked commit to Louisville since Samardo Samuels. During the summer of 2011, he was mentioned in 2012 NBA mock drafts as a first round grab. But, a shoulder injury suffered during McDonald's All-American game practice set him back physically (and, likely, emotionally) for much of his freshman season. A strong outburst in the 2012 Final Four game against Kentucky appeared to be his coming out party and earned him a return trip to the 2013 mock drafts. Two years later, Wayne is heading into his senior year at Louisville as a captain and referenced by Pitino as the player who's shown the least improvement over his college career. Reportedly, Wayne has increased his focus on basketball so far this summer and appears to be trending in the right direction to meet the expectations everyone had for him.
Chane, another McDonald's All-American who moved from Cincinnati to Bowling Green during high school to get out of a poor social situation, made quite an impact his freshman season, particularly during the Card's surge to the Final Four. That breakout had many thinking he would take a stab at the NBA draft, but he opted to come back to Louisville for, at least, another season. It's told that Chane slacked off of workouts that summer, got into some disciplinary issues that carried over into the season, and was noticeably out of shape when going up against incoming freshman Montrezl Harrell in preseason workouts. Chane did return to form and played a major role in Louisville's run to the National Championship in 2013. Again, thoughts were of him pursuing a pro career. But, he once again decided to remain in college. And, again, Chane reportedly slacked off during the summer and found himself, again, in disciplinary hot water with the team that lasted through to his dismissal from the program in early January 2014. But, wait. There's more. Over the course of the next 4 months, Chane went through John Lucas's rehab program, decided to transfer to Colorado St., began online courses with CSU, was cited for marijuana possession while back in Louisville, and then decided to enter the 2014 NBA draft. Since, Chane's citation has been dropped, he's been working relentlessly on his body and game, and has worked out for a number of NBA teams in hopes of being drafted and/or finding a spot in the NBA Summer League.
Zach, a 4-star center out of high school, was another transplant to the local area coming from Cleveland. He was considered very raw, but very coachable. And, you can't teach height, right? Zach proved to be a project during his freshman season, but got an unexpected amount of playing time early in the 2013 season when Gorgui Dieng missed several games with a wrist injury. What was a promising start to the season ended equally disappointing as Zach rarely saw minutes, playing behind a healthy Dieng and Stephan Van Treese. Soon after the season, Zach announced his intentions to transfer amid rumblings of a contentious relationship with Pitino. Missouri was Zach's landing spot, where he sat out the 2014 season as part of NCAA transfer rules. However, after the season, he was charged with multiple criminal counts related to domestic violence and was, consequently, released from the Missouri program.
Kevin was a 4-star recruit, known most for his athleticism at the guard spot and ability to attack the rim. His trip to Louisville began, though, as a commitment to Bruce Pearl and the Tennessee program. Upon Pearl's firing for lying to the NCAA, Kevin opened his recruitment and briefly flirted with Central Florida. In the wake of the Ken Caldwell, Brandon Bender, Damarcus Smith saga that Louisville fans are familiar with, Kevin cooled on the UCF interest and chose to become a Cardinal. His freshman season provided him limited action, but there were flashes of possibility, which came to fruition during the second half of his sophomore season in 2013. Of course, we all know about the leg injury that earned him worldwide recognition while also sidelining him for an extended period. Kevin made an emotional return to the court early in the 2014 season, but aggravated his injury very quickly and was, again, sidelined for the rest of the season. However, over the last couple of months of the season, Kevin disappeared from the sidelines during games and the rumor mill exploded. Sure enough, immediately following Louisville's Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky, Kevin announced his intent to transfer. Ultimately, he chose Georgia State, which is close to his home and family in Atlanta.
Angel, a 3-star recruit and the lowest-ranked of the five player class, drew early comparisons to former fan favorite and current NBA player Francisco Garcia. Of course, being tall, lanky, and Dominican with an ability to make deep jump shots makes the comparison understandable. Unfortunately, Angel's grasp of Pitino's defensive principles never materialized, so he saw limited minutes his freshman season and into his sophomore year when he decided to leave Louisville and transfer to Gonzaga midseason. At Gonzaga, Angel became eligible at the end of the first semester of the 2014 season and found himself 9th in the rotation, averaging 7 minutes per game. He averaged just under 4 points while pulling down 2 rebounds and making just 1 of 8 three point attempts in 23 games played. Angel will likely find himself battling for minutes with Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer next season.
A recruiting class with so much promise has seen four of the five players leave or be dismissed from the program.. The one player who was expected to stay the shortest time, Blackshear, is the lone player going to suit up four years for the Cardinals. It's unlikely Louisville goes to back-to-back Final Fours or wins a National Championship without Chane. It's also unlikely that Louisville's 2013 title is as emotional without the inspiration of Kevin Ware. But, Wayne Blackshear may be carrying the future opinion of the 2011 recruiting class squarely on his surgically repaired shoulders.