By Andrew Phelps
The old and the new ushered in the 2013/2014 basketball season Tuesday night. "Rise and repeat" is not just a marketing scheme, it is a mission and a core belief held by the coaching staff, emulated by the players. Louisville is a champion now, the defending champion, and as Hall of Famer Rick Pitino said, we might be in the midst of a mini-dynasty.
If and when Chane Behanan returns, along with Kevin Ware and hero Luke Hancock, this team is potentially unequaled at every spot on the floor except center. After the scrimmages and exhibition game, it is clear Russ Smith has made the improvements we were looking for, while still being one of the most elusive and best scorers in Louisville history. It is no secret that Pitino and freshman do not mix well in terms of early playing time, however this year feels entirely different, and it should, this is HOF Rick we are talking about. Terry Rozier is quickly turning into one of my favorite players; the kid has a nose for the ball, pure athleticism, and a demeanor of a junior or senior. Anton Gill will provide solid bench minutes and is more than capable of knocking down an open shot from anywhere on the floor. Personally, I am most excited about Mangok. He is more advanced than Gorgui was at this stage and the best part is he has no pressure. There is so much talent around him we will not need Dieng offensive numbers, just his rebounding and blocked shots, certainly a tall task but he is capable
Referencing last year's team is a habit, and will take some time to break, but through the very early portion of this season one thing is obvious: The new Cardinals have an offensive firepower not seen in the Rick Pitino era of UofL basketball. The Birds have seven players capable of shooting better than 35-40% from the three point line. Rozier, Blackshear, Russ and Jones seem very comfortable and adept at hitting the forgotten and seldom seen pull up jumper. Montrezl is on a mission from God to break a backboard and break every Cardinal dunking record. Also evident is the speed. Teams will have a very hard time guarding our backcourt and with the new foul rules in place, the free throw will be our friend if they can capitalize.
Keys to this season are simple, and similar to our beloved football team. Health is important for any banner chaser, but around Louisville the injury bug seems to bite a lot harder and a lot bigger. Preseason injuries have been abundant; hopefully we can avoid the catastrophic plagues seen in the past and just incur the bumps and bruises like every other program across the states. The Cardinals must remain humble, and focused on themselves. Much like the gridiron Birds, the defending champions are likely to be favored in nearly every game. Pitino learned humility, wrote a book about it and now must let it circulate through this team. With leaders like Hancock, Russ and Harrell, humility, effort, hustle and pure fun will not be a concern.
My attitude for the 2013/2014 campaign will be similar and repetitive of last year. The Cardinals can and do have the best team in the country. With a healthy roster, this team can master the simplified schedule and put themselves in position to earn an invite to the house that Jerry built. The pieces are falling into place for a repeat bid and the excitement at 2nd and Main is contagious. Sit back, relax, get some roasted nuts and enjoy the ride. The year of the Cardinal continues, rise and repeat.
All Hail UofL !!