Rick Pitino announced Monday afternoon that freshman Earl Clark will start Louisville's Big East Tournament opener on Thursday in place of injured junior forward Juan Palacios and senior Perrin Johnson who had started the last three games.
Pitino pointed to Clark's career-high ten rebounds in Sunday's win over Seton Hall as the main reason he believed E5 was now "ready."
"I told him in the second half, if you don't rebound the basketball, we're in trouble," Pitino said. "And he immediately got to the glass."
Clark's only other start came in a Dec. 28 win over San Francisco, and in that game he only played 14 minutes.
The C-J has more on Juan Palacios:
"It's kind of frustrating, because one day I'll feel good and want to do a little bit more, and the next day it goes back to hurting," he said. "So it's tough to read. It's not like an ankle sprain or something else where you know it's one week or two weeks. With the back, you can't really tell."
Palacios said he's eager to rejoin the team, especially at this time of year.
"I'm glad we're winning, and that's the important thing right now," he said. "But as any player would, I'd like to be a part of the team and the winning streak."
I still think that a healthy Placios is a key to a possible NCAA Tournament run, not only because his presence adds depth and experience, but because his game is far more suited for the style of play that the Cards might see in opponents from other conferences. Every now and then things just click for JDP like they did in last year's Miami and Uconn games and this year's Depaul game, and knowing that he has that ability in him I think makes him an extreme asset in March.
If Juan isn't able to go this week or the week after, then we're all going to be even more ecstatic over the emergence of Clark than we already were.
E5, who was somehow named to CollegeHoops.net's freshman "All Bust Team" (feel free to email writer Jason Tomassini), has averaged 9.3 ppg in Louisville's last eight contests, and has logged 17 or more minutes in eight of their last 10.
A lot of fans complained that Clark wasn't playing much at the beginning of the season, as did many of Clark's friends and family members. One person who never complained was Clark himself, who Pitino said understood the whole time that he needed a better understanding of how the college game was played before he was ready to log big minutes.
Though rumors sprouted almost daily about Clark's unhappiness in December and early January, Earl's mother Brenda said he never considered leaving.
"He was determined to be at Louisville for the long haul," she said. "He told me, 'I worked really hard to get here. Why would I want to take 10 steps back?'"
Clark's loyalty and commitment have now landed him a starting role on a top 15 team about to play in front of a large national audience in the world's most famous arena.