Day one from San Juan is in the books, and despite the fact that Louisville's "B" and "A" team both took losses, I think it's safe to say that the overall feeling from everyone associated with the Cards was positive (outside of the opening quarter from the first game).
The play was extremely physical, the atmosphere a bit bizarre, and the mascot over-the-top creepy. I would expect nothing less from August basketball.
Let's get into it.
I suppose there isn't anywhere to start other than Damion Lee, who dropped 36 points, which is -- according to our man Kelly Dickey -- the most of any U of L player in an exhibition game in at least 45 years. This is the part where I'd usually say we all shouldn't go overboard after one performance in one meaningless August game, but this is Louisville, we've already gone overboard with our 600 open thread comments last night and this 1,000+ word post.
There's a reason schools like Kansas and Arizona wanted Lee every bit as badly as Louisville did. Drexel might not be in the ACC, but it isn't a MEAC program either. If you can be the nation's 5th-leading scorer there, you can play. Anyone who doubted that fact got there first of many tastes of being wrong on Tuesday.
For Louisville to be back in the conversation of existing as a Final Four contender, I really believe that Lee has to be their best player (or at least their top scorer) as well as a potential first or second team All-ACC performer. He's not going to shoot like he did last night every time he steps on the court, but he's going to find ways to put the ball in the basket, which is a welcome sight for all of us who experienced the long 2014-15 winter.
Knowing that this wasn't an aberration, that Lee has apparently stood out this much since he arrived at U of L, is comforting.
The bench intensity for both of these meaningless games was better last night than it was at any point before the NCAA Tournament last season. The chemistry and character stuff that Pitino has talked about so consistently this summer wasn't just smoke.
He got a little iffy with his shot selection after a hot start, but it's pretty easy to see why Pitino loves Trey Lewis as a team leader. I covered a couple of Friday night Cleveland State games last season, and every time I thought of or referred to Lewis, the word "bulldog" was all I could think of. He's the first guy over to help someone up, he's always into the game on the bench, and he's not going to take any ish from anybody, including a point guard for the Dallas Mavericks (just give him the ball, JJ).
Again, Lewis took, and missed, some really bad shots last night, but what he brings to the table both on and off the court was still on full display. The Lee/Lewis/Louisville love affair will be brief, but it will be passionate.
The evening's second most impressive Cardinal performance, in my eyes at least, came from Chinanu Onuaku, who appears to be in much better shape and capable of being a much more versatile player than he was as a freshman. Nanu finished the second game with 13 points and 10 boards, and made several nice power moves to the basket, something we never saw from him last year.
I'm still not 100 percent sold on this Nanu/Mangok frontcourt (again, it's been one meaningless game), but I do think that so long as he doesn't pat himself on the back and take it too easy in September and October, Nanu is going to be the capable and consistent center that U of L could never find last season.
The PA guy (who was incredible) also played circus music after Nanu shot underhanded free-throws for the first time. Get used to it, my man. Just know that you're taking one for the team and that we all greatly appreciate it.
The play in the second game was extremely physical, and the officiating -- as Rick Pitino told us it would be -- fairly one-sided in favor of the home team. For example, apparently this is a perfectly legal way to defend an out-of-bounds play in Puerto Rico:
The worst offender, however, was the Puerto Rican big man, who sort of reminds me of the big guy from Turkey who played for West Virginia and bore a stunning resemblance to the WVU Mountaineer. Anyway, this guy didn't set a single pick last night that wouldn't have drawn a whistle in America. He stuck his hips out, he utilized the two-armed shove, and sometimes he just grabbed dudes.
Again, whatever, it's Puerto Rico and we were all told to expect this.
So in the second half I make a joke on Twitter about this guy setting picks like he's an actor in a "how not to tackle" instructional video for kids just starting to play football. Not my greatest work, but I thought it was appropriate.
After the game, the Twitter account for a Puerto Rican radio station (I think) chimes in with a taunt and a reference to the tweet. Several more accounts appear to do the same in Spanish. I respond with an obvious (at least in my mind) joke about Puerto Rico not having any Final Fours. The joke does not translate, and all hell breaks loose.
I keep doubling down, but it only gets worse.
In the end, a bunch of Puerto Rico fans change their last names on Twitter to Rutherford and start discussing all the things they like more than me.
Not sure how I'm going to explain to my future children why none of us are allowed to visit Puerto Rico.
I wondered heading into the night how well Rick Pitino was going to be able to keep himself fixated solely on coaching Puerto Rico and not the Louisville team. That question was answered about 2 minutes in when he yelled at Chinanu for not being in the right spot on out of bounds play.
It was weird hearing Pitino refer to the Cards after the game as "Louisville" and not "we." I'm not a big fan.
One of the best things about the first game was that you got to see guys who don't typically play a lot really get into the flow of a game. All of these kids can play, which is something that doesn't always shine through when they're only on the floor for 1 or 2 minute stints.
Watching David Levitch play a full game really drives home just how well he understands the game. He seems to see things a second ahead of everyone else, he knows where the ball is supposed to be and he knows how to get it there. It was really fun to watch that from a guy who we typically see play no more than a couple of minutes at a time.
The same goes for Matz Stockman, who couldn't get a shot to fall in the first half, but then hit all four of his attempts in the third quarter and looked like the player the coaches always say they see in practice. Sometimes you just need to get into a flow for the game to come to you, and these early games present a great opportunity for a lot of these guys to showcase themselves.
If you didn't know ahead of time, I'm sure you would have been shocked when someone told you yesterday that Henderson was a walk-on. Not only does he look like a scholarship player, but he looks like a scholarship player who could help Louisville win games this year.
It's not hard to see why Henderson had scholarship offers from programs like Dayton and Florida State when he was in high school, and why the original plan for him at St. John's was to be put on scholarship after redshirting his first year. Louisville may have gotten a steal here.
I was surprised that we didn't see more from Jaylen Johnson in game two and that he didn't have more of an impact on game one. Even with this proposed monster frontcourt, it's hard for me to envision any scenario where Louisville has an overwhelmingly successful season without Jaylen being a big-time contributor.
Relatively quiet nights for both Quentin Snider and Anas Mahmoud. I'm not sure if it's because the injury slowed down his progress this summer, but the first glimpse we got of Anas in Puerto Rico was basically the same Anas we saw all last season. He showed solid touch, made a couple nice moves, hit a jumper or two and had a stellar block, but he was also just a step slow defensively and was beaten way too many times for defensive rebounds.
Again, this was just night one of a long week.
Who is Bompy, you ask?
I'm gonna go ahead and need someone on the scene to let me know what the name of this Puerto Rican mascot is. pic.twitter.com/oV7QXrA5OZ— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) August 12, 2015
Bompy nightmare fuel. pic.twitter.com/Hor2kiKjsz— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) August 12, 2015
Stop Bompy 2015.
I'm a little bit worried about our guy Paul Rogers, who sounded ready to call it a night about midway through the 2nd quarter of the first game. It's going to be a long week, and my hope is that by Thursday Paul just tosses in the towel and starts telling hilarious stories from years past in the middle of one of these games.
You can see what Pitino has been talking about all summer when it comes to Ray Spalding, and when it comes to Deng Adel for that matter. Both are raw, but their talent is unmistakable, especially when it comes to being everywhere on the defensive end. Both of those guys are going to help Louisville this season, but both are going to be really, really good in a year or two.
I was also pleasantly surprised by Ryan McMahon. He didn't put up all-world shooting numbers, but his stroke still shines through. He's also much better with the ball in his hands than I expected. Still a really intriguing player to watch going forward.
When we were growing up, one of my friends loved athletes who were giant pricks. As a result, his favorite baseball player was Benito Santiago. Being a Kentucky fan, I'm sure he loved the fact that Benito Santiago Jr. absolutely lit Louisville up in game one yesterday.
God I'm old.
My favorite coaches moment yesterday was a tie between Ralph Willard trying (and getting caught) to send Damion Lee instead of Nanu to the free-throw line after a timeout, or Pitino yelling at Mike Balado for clapping after Trey Lewis made a nice play at the beginning of the second game.
Donovan Mitchell didn't set the world on fire in his Cardinal debut, but there were a couple of times where his ability was impossible to miss. Don't get worked up over last night (or this week), the kid is going to be huge for this year's team.
@CardChronicle I thought he graduated?— Caleb Ahlers (@TheField17) August 11, 2015
Sorry, angry Puerto Rico basketball fans.
More like San Chron.
This is why I can never visit.
Usually an extremely cautious, if not pessimistic fan, I've felt all summer as though I'm higher on this Louisville team than the vast majority of folks around the country. I honestly believe this group has the potential to develop into a contender, and last night (as small a sample size as it was) did nothing to change that.
Looking forward to the rest of the week.