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Cards’ 2018 prospects get a big boost from Adel’s decision to ditch NBA draft, Pitino says


By Russ Brown
KyForward correspondent

LOUISVILLE — What does the return of Deng Adel for his junior season mean for the University of Louisville basketball team? Plenty, especially with the loss of sophomore Donovan Mitchell, who decided to stay in the NBA draft and hired an agent.

Adel now becomes the centerpiece of the Cardinals’ 2017-18 club, whose strong returning nucleus will undoubtedly put them in the preseason Top 10. Adel will be UofL’s top returning scorer, having averaged 12.1 points along with 4.5 rebounds, which ranks second to Ray Spalding’s 5.5 per game.

UofL coach Rick Pitino said during a press conference Tuesday to provide updates on the 2017-18 Cards that the 6-7 Adel will move from small forward into Mitchell’s spot at shooting guard.

Adel finished last season strong, averaging a team-best 16.3 points over the last six games while shooting 54 percent, including 40.9 from 3-point range. (UofL Athletics Photo)

Adel finished last season strong, averaging a team-best 16.3 points over the last six games while shooting 54 percent, including 40.9 from 3-point range. He also averaged 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists during that span. On the season, he played 29.9 minutes per game, third-highest on the team.

Pitino said Adel “did quite well” in workouts for seven NBA teams, noting that they were particularly impressed with his athleticism and length.

“He has all the components to be a very good professional basketball player,” Pitino says. “Now he just has to work on his skills.”

Pitino said Adel told him Monday night that his goals are to improve enough to become a lottery pick and to reach the Final Four.

“We’re excited,” Pitino says. “He’s really, really motivated and he’s coming back for all the right reasons. He’s coming back for the team and for being a special draft choice.”

Pitino says Adel’s focus during the offseason and in preseason practice should be making his defense as strong as his offense, learning how to run pick and rolls more efficiently and becoming a more consistent 3-point shooter. Last season Adel shot 34.6 percent (44-127) from beyond the arc and 42.2 percent overall.

“Deng also has to learn some different ball-handling skills, how to get the ball in the lane and make passes,” Pitino says. “He can dribble the ball, but now he’s got to learn how to make plays off the bounce. Once he masters that and improves his 3-point shooting I believe his goal of being a lottery pick is realistic.”

UofL will be well-stocked with capable big men and wings. Ray Spalding (6-10), Anas Mahmoud (7-0) and V.J. King (6-6) return, and freshman frontline recruits Lance Thomas (6-9), Jordan Nwora (6-8) and Malik Williams (6-11) are being counted on to make an immediate impact.

“We think we will have great length,” Pitino says. “We have a seven-foot center with a 7-5 wingspan. We have some power forwards at 6-10 with 7-foot wingspans, we have wing players with great wingspans. And then Deng Adel being 6-7 and change at two guard gives you great size. So we should be an outstanding defensive team, great fast break team with terrific length and should cause a lot of problems defensively for people.”

While freshmen seldom have played significant minutes on Pitino’s Louisville teams, with some exceptions, he says this year will be different because rookies will have to have a major impact for the Cards to be successful.

“Malik Williams could come in this year and start, as well as any of those freshmen,” Pitino says. “But if there’s a guy ahead of him who’s better, then it’s tough. All of our freshmen will have the opportunity to start, but you’ve got to go out there and earn it. Not easy to do sometimes, but it’s possible. So we are certainly going to rely on freshmen this year; they’ve got to play a lot of minutes.”

Pitino cited needed improvements among two key returning players — senior point guard Quentin Snider and Spalding. He said Snider must work on his defense because he gets beat off the dribble too much.

“Offensively, Q can do it all,” Pitino says. “He’s a terrific passer, ballhandler, breaks pressure, advances the ball well, smart point guard. He’s just got to learn to stop people and stay in front of people. I told him, ‘You’ve got to improve your first step defensively so you can stay with your man. He gets beat on the first step, which is what you don’t want. If you get beat on the second dribble you can get help, but if you get beat off the first bounce that’s the most damaging. He’s got to dig in there on the first step.”

Where Spalding is concerned, Pitino wants to see a better work ethic this summer.

“Ray’s got the ability to be one of the best players I’ve coached,” Pitino says. “But he’s his own worst enemy because he didn’t put the time and effort into it last summer. But I think he’s learned a valuable lesson about how important the summer is, and I think he’s finally motivated. I think him, along with Malik Williams and Lance (Thomas) are going to have some great battles.”

PITINO EXPECTS NO MORE TEAM PENALTIES

The NCAA’s investigation of Louisville naturally came up during the press conference, but Pitino declined to talk about the case because his appearance in front of the Commission on Infractions in Cincinnati on April 20 was too unpleasant.

However, asked if he had spoken to his team about the possibility of penalties to future teams, Pitino replied: “I don’t think anything’s going to happen to the future.”

Pitino testified during the nearly 11-hour hearing, along with acting UofL president Greg Postel and athletics director Tom Jurich. The committee then told UofL’s representatives that they could expect a ruling in six-to-eight weeks. The six-week mark is June 1.

Pitino was initially asked if he felt he had made his case effectively before the committee.

“You know, it was one of the most difficult days and I don’t even want to relive any of those hours,” he said. “So I’d rather not answer your question. It just was excruciating, long, tedious.”

He interrupted a follow-up question by saying, “Like I said, it was such an unpleasant experience that I don’t even think about it.”

UofL self-imposed a postseason ban on the Cards’ 2015-16 team, along with several recruiting sanctions after agreeing that former director of basketball operations Andre McGee paid strippers thousands of dollars at parties for recruits. Pitino disputed a charge by the NCAA that he failed to monitor McGee, a violation that could result in a suspension during the upcoming season.


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