Chris Mack talked with members of the media Thursday afternoon about having an official start date for the 2020-21 season, how that later start date will affect the team’s non-conference schedule, and which players he’s been impressed with during the squad’s summer practice sessions.
You can see the full video here, or check out the transcript below.
Q: What are your thoughts on the NCAA decision to move the start of the season back to November 25?
“We’re awfully excited that all signs point toward getting our season started. There’s probably a thousand opinions around the country as to when they thought the optimum start date was. I’ll be honest with you, I think they probably should have left it the way it was. This opens up a can of worms with what we’re trying to deal with for the non-conference schedule. But it beats what happened to us at the end of the year a season ago. So really, really excited about getting things going. Don’t know who we’re playing first, don’t know how that’s going to look, but it beats the alternative.”
Q: What does this mean for your scheduling?
“We’ve started it. To say I have any concrete information to give you as far as likely opponents, that would be very premature. We’re all in the same boat trying to figure out games we had scheduled previous and there’s a lot of stuff in flux right now. Certainly, we saw what the NCAA said was the minimum number of games, the maximum number. But to this point we’re in conversations with a lot of people around the country trying to do what we can to put together a non-conference schedule.”
Q: How did the ACC coaches’ proposal regarding expansion of the NCAA Tournament come about?
“A lot of things went into that. I think the first thing that we talked about was the disappointment a lot of programs felt a year ago of not being able to enjoy their NCAA Tournament experience. Teams that had never been in the tournament before, teams that had won their conference tournament. I understand there were seniors who departed and didn’t have that chance to play, just like my five seniors. And then you start talking about what is non-conference season gonna look like? Are teams gonna have the ability to get tested? We felt like it was a way to sort of get everybody a fair chance at the end of the year and give an opportunity for every team to get into the tournament. It would have meant an extra weekend, but it didn’t grow a lot of legs and I’m a little fuzzy on the details at this point.”
Q: Has the conference office given you any parameters when the league schedule might open?
“Those things are gonna change. I don’t think I’m at liberty right now to give the dates they’re proposing for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, so I won’t do that and let the cat out of the bag and get yelled out. But I think the Big Ten/ACC Challenge is gonna be a priority for both leagues; it’s a great non-conference game. So that will be played unless something unforeseen would happen.”
Q: Players have a video on Twitter about you guys organizing for a vote. Could you expand on that?
“My job is to support my players and they felt very strongly about the message they put out. They also feel very strongly, and obviously the NCAA took off election day, as a day we can have practice or mandatory activities. I thought that was a step in the right direction to give our guys an opportunity to make sure they vote. We’ve registered every guy on our team over the last couple months and I know a lot of teams in our league have as well. So obviously voting is right we all have, so our guys wanted to do that. I was in complete support of the video they wanted to put out, and being right here in the heart of a city that the spotlight has unfortunately been on over the last couple months, we all felt like it was an important step.”
Q: Do you know how the Las Vegas event is going to be handled?
“We’re looking into it. To say a decision has been finalized would be premature. Obviously, the dates of that exempt event fall outside the window the NCAA provided for non-conference games to begin. So from a contractual standpoint, I don’t think we have any obligation to play it because we can’t play it during that time. If it made sense for us to go out to Vegas then we would. Obviously, I think the chances have diminished, but I don’t have anything finalized in terms of are we going to go to Vegas or not?”
Q: How important is it for the men’s basketball program to be on the cutting edge of the NIL process?
“I think it’s very important. We talked to kids we recruit and their families all the time about Louisville being a basketball city, being a city that doesn’t have a high-tier professional sports team in the area. I came from a city where they have the Bengals and Reds and that was always something that sort of distracted the public. Here in Louisville all eyes are on our players and program and the great history they have. That’s a great selling point and we want to make sure we put our student-athletes in the best position possible if and when that rule does change, and give them opportunities that unfortunately Cardinals of the past haven’t had.”
Q: What’s it like to now have the date you are going to start?
“I think for our players, they’re not privvy to the same conversations we have as ACC coaches or the talks I have with my athletic director when he gets off his ACC AD meeting, so for our players it’s a great relief. For months all they’ve heard is the cancellation of the season being a possibility, are they gonna have a year? They’ve watched everything that’s developed in college football from postponing the season to saying they’re not playing. They’ve seen it all. So for our players to get the concrete answer this is when we start practice, this is when we have the opportunity to play our first game, I know they’re really relieved. They’ve had a little jolt of energy as we head to workouts today, so it’s great.
“We get to increase the hours with our players next week, although it’s not full-blown practice. We go from four on-the-court hours to eight, and being where we had three or four months where the guys weren’t in our gym, it’s important that we can get them in decent enough shape where they can start practice and we hopefully, knock on wood, not have any of those injuries that come with guys not being in the best of shape.”
Q: This is such a fluid situation, how confident are you that things are set now or do you prepare just in case for alternative realities?
“I would say yes, the framework is set. I think that’s why the NCAA gave a minimum of 13 games for a variety of reasons. We may lose games during the year, we’ve seen it across college football, and that’s the reality of it. I don’t think it’s going to collapse college basketball and all of a sudden end the season for everyone. But let’s face it, there’s going to be times where a team has a guy test positive, guys are going to have to quarantine, gonna lose a lot of days. There’s a return to a protocol. We have protocols on top of protocols. I don’t think I’ve heard that word more than in the last three months. I’m really tired of saying the word protocol. That remains to be seen, but the framework is there, they want to play the season, we’re not throwing them out there to make money like conspiracy theorists say.”
Q: It seems like coaches, ADs and leagues are unified to make sure a season will happen. Has that been the way this has gone?
“Let’s face it, this is new for everybody. Unless you’re Kenny Klein and you were around during the Spanish Flu, this is the first time we’ve dealt with this. So it’s very, very touchy. You have folks who don’t want society to open up for another two years and you have others who want to steamroll right through it. We’re trying to be very, very respectful of everybody and we’re also making sure we’re doing our part to keep the safety of our players in mind. We’ve watched college football, college basketball coaches have had numerous meetings within their conferences, with their colleagues to try and shape this the best we can. Not everybody’s gonna be in agreement, but we tried to work hand in hand. ACC coaches, every Wednesday morning since March and April, we’ve talked about a variety of issues, most of them centering around covid.”
Q: Have there been discussions in the ACC about playing in some sort of a bubble?
“There’s been talk of it. How much talk I wouldn’t be able to divide the percentage but we talked about a bubble. We talked about non-conference bubbles, we’ve talked about ACC bubbles. We haven’t talked a whole lot about NCAA Tournament because we don’t control that. So, yeah, there’s been talk of it, and I’m sure that’d be some conferences that try to attempt that. The NBA pulled it off, they got a lot more money than we do in college basketball when you go all the way, 353, or whatever it is, on Division I teams. Yeah, there’s been a lot of talk but to say anything’s been concrete, I don’t think so at this point.”
Q: UofL filed response to NCAA allegations. Do you have any sense when that will all be final and is there any threat to this season?
“No, I don’t have any idea. All that stuff happened before me and so I don’t, no I don’t.”
Q: Impressions of Carlik Jones so far?
“He’s very, very, very talented. And, he’s got a lot of moxie, a lot of swagger. He really has big confidence in himself.
“I think he’s getting pushed extremely hard, and no disrespect to Radford, but the competition here in practice, you know, the asks in the weight room, on the floor accountability look just a little bit different. And so he’s learning some things that I think are going to be very valuable to him as a player and to our team.
“I love him. He’s going to be a guy that the Cardinal fans really enjoy watching.”
Q: What have you seen with your team as far as workouts, what have you accomplished?
“I’ll be honest with you, if you include the summer, fall, it’s been a little choppy. Just from the standpoint of, if a student manager or GA or a player gets the virus, a certain number of guys have to be quarantined. It’s been a little choppy, so we haven’t necessarily had our full team every day. We’re better now than we were in mid-summer. But, I love the energy to this group brings. We have some in-experience that we’re going to have to try to wipe away through the preseason. We’re going to have some guys that have to step into roles that they didn’t play a year ago.
“That’s what college basketball is about. Guys graduate, guys leave early for the NBA, and guys that necessarily weren’t household names have to figure out a way to get on the floor be consistent. And so. I really like our energy. I like our talent level. I really like our pieces. I think we have a couple guys that can really get the ball in the lane off the bounce in Carlik [Jones] and David [Johnson]. And so I think there’d be some guys that make some jumps from last year to this year.
“So, I’m really encouraged and excited, and especially with the additional four hours that we get next week to really start hammering away at preseason. For a while we were sort of without a map. You know, when you heard hey the season’s going to get pushed back, we didn’t know if that was January. We didn’t know if that was one week, if that was three months, who knew. So I think now that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and we know what we’re sort of shooting for, there’s a little bit more direction and energy towards what we’re doing.
Q: You mentioned that there will be guys to make the jump from last year to this year. Has there been that person that has caught your eye?
“Well, I think Sam Williamson looks night and day different, just in terms of his body. His understanding of what it takes to be prepared for a workout, to be ready to go from minute one versus last year at this time, it’s just night and day. I think that’s the biggest jump that most guys make is from their freshman to sophomore year, because now they know what they didn’t know. And they understand the intensity at this level. I think Sam’s made a really good jump in that area.
“I’ve been glowing about Jae’Lyn Withers for a year now and he’s going to have the opportunity to play for us. We need Jae’Lyn to be a lot more consistent than he shows in practice, but his talent level, and his athleticism is as good as anybody on the team. So we’re going to need Jae’Lyn to be a guy that we can count on. And he’s going to have to be a guy that can do some things on both ends of the floor for us because he’s more than capable.”
Q: Has there been some consideration of having Louisville playing Bellarmine?
“Well, I would say this, it’s just so sudden, it’s just such a turnaround from the last night when we got the information of when our season’s going to start. We’ve been talking to several teams geographically, that are close to Louisville that could make sense of what a non-conference schedule would look. Bellarmine is certainly one of those schools.
Q: What have you seen about Sam’s body type and does that change the way he’ll play?
“What I meant is, he wasn’t barely 200 pounds a year ago and I just think that when he went home, like a lot of guys didn’t have a whole lot of access to be able to get into a gym. To be able to go to a Planet Fitness or a workout place. Guys were relegated to their house and Sam was no different, but whatever he did, whether it was push-ups, he came back and he really looked like he had worked out for three months. Where that wasn’t the case for everybody, I’m not assigning blame I’m just telling you how diligent Sam was and his approach during the shutdown.
“And so he’s a lot bigger, a lot thicker, a lot stronger. I like to think that he can take and initiate contact much better than he could as a freshman. I think he’s a lot more confident. He plays with a lot more energy than he did a year ago, a bigger voice. He’s not as quiet on the basketball floor.
“Again, I think he knows what he didn’t know a year ago. Just gained a lot of experience. So we’re going to lean on him. He’s got a terrific mid-range game as you know, I think he can be excellent in transition, he’s got to be a good rebounder for us. He’s grown up a lot on the defensive end. He’s still not a stopper, but much better defensive player than he was a year ago. So, I just think he’s going to grow in a lot of different areas.”
Q: Have you had discussions with Cincinnati in keeping that game for this season?
“I talked to Coach Brannen this morning. It’s, again, one of the games that was on our schedule prior to November 25. So I don’t know if that’s going to be something that we’re going to have to defer for a year or so.
“Let’s be honest, when you have a game that you’re possibly looking at playing in their arena with no fans, then I’m going to ask him a year later to come back to the Yum! Center in front of 22,000 fans – if you’re John Brannen, you probably don’t feel very good about that.
“I want to do what’s best for our program but at the same time I’m not going to put other guys programs in a tough way, so we’re all trying to work together to get the best non-conference schedule we can. I don’t know if that’s going to include Cincinnati this year or not.”
Q: The recruiting dead period has been pushed back to Dec. 31. How does that impact guys who can’t visit campus?
“It really remains to be seen. I feel bad for those rising seniors and I don’t mean just high school basketball. Just seniors in general all around the country getting robbed of going to school every day and sitting with their friends. Having to do a lot of their classes virtually. I mean, hey we’re all living this experience. But you know, I think when you think of your fond memories, you probably think back when you were senior in high school and all those things you did whether it was go to a dance, go to homecoming. For those seniors, that’s just one more thing on the list. Not having the ability to come visit your school.
“Hopefully sometime past January 1st we’ll have the ability to have those guys on official visits, so they can you know experience Louisville like the way they should. All kids should all around the country at their respective schools and their decisions.
“What we’ve tried to do, and I’m sure we’re no different, is form the best relationship that we can from afar. Whether that’s through that’s through Zoom calls to present information. Whether that’s through FaceTime calls to gain an even stronger personal relationship. Phone calls or letters, you name it, to make that family, to make that student-athlete feel very comfortable with their decision. And I just feel bad for a lot of kids around the country having to sort of make these decisions without being able to eyeball things, but it is what it is. And we’re going to keep recruiting and whatever the rules are we’ll follow them.”