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Mack says incoming graduate transfers Jones, Minlend bring toughness to Louisville backcourt

By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

Toughness, both mentally and physically, were at the top of coach Chris Mack’s list when he went searching for graduate transfers who could provide immediate help in Louisville’s depleted backcourt.

And he thinks found players who fit that description in Carlik Jones and Charles Minlend Jr., both of whom have signed financial aid agreements with the Cardinals for the 2020-21 season.

Jones (6-foot-1) was a three-year starter at Radford University and was named the top grad transfer in the country by ESPN after averaging 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists as a redshirt junior this past season.

Carlik Jones started for three years at Radford and averaged 20.0 points per game last season. (Radford photo)

The 6-foot-4 Minlend, also a three-year starter, scored 1,271 career points for the University of San Francisco, including an average of 14.5 points this year. He also contributed 4.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 steals.

More impressively, Minlend had 19 points and seven rebounds in the Dons’ 81-77 loss to No. 2 Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals and averaged 18.7 points in three WCC Tournament games.

Mack said both players feel they have something to prove after being overlooked by major powers at various stages in their career. For instance, Jones was a standout at Aiken High School in Cincinnati while Mack was coaching nearby at Xavier. But Mack never showed any interest in the hometown kid, and Jones wasn’t courted by any other school of note either.

Minlend also felt he never got the respect he deserved after averaging 22.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists in his only season at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy. He has a good pedigree, too — his father, Charles Minlend, accumulated 1,349 points and 784 rebounds for St. John’s from 1992-97, ranking in the top-25 career-wise in both departments.

“I think they both add an element of toughness,” Mack said. “Just in talking to coaches that coached against them for a number of years they felt both brought a lot of toughness to the table, both mentally and physically.

“Carlik’s the guy who, really, for his entire high school career was overlooked and I’ll be honest with you, I was one of those guys. He was right in my backyard and obviously we didn’t recruit him at Xavier. So he always had a chip on his shoulder, always trying to prove people wrong.

“It was interesting talking to Charles that he felt the same way. He actually had more offers out of high school as a senior than he did after his prep school year and he had a great prep school year at Fork Union. His team won a ton of games, but the opportunities weren’t there like they were out of high school. So both of them carry a chip on their shoulders, and I think that’s one of the biggest things you can have defensively is the desire.

Charles Minlend Jr.

“I’d also tell you that they’re both extremely smart and they’re excited about the challenge of playing here at the next level up from where they played before. So I’d like to think they’re going to bring that type of energy and effort that it takes from the defensive end and a little bit of that spirit feeling like they were overlooked.”

Neither was overlooked, however, as grad transfers. Jones was recruited by Maryland, Michigan State, Marquette, Texas Tech, West Virgina and Gonzaga. Minlend also entertained an offer from the Zags, as well as from Arkansas, Butler, Indiana and Mississippi.

After getting a commitment from Jones, Mack didn’t turn his attention to finding another guard until JUCO signee Jay Scubb decided to enter the NBA draft because the Cards’ backcourt was decimated, with Ryan McMahon and Fresh Kimble exhausting their eligibility, Darius Perry deciding to transfer and Scrubb turning pro. That left rising sophomore David Johnson as the only experienced guard returning.

“We certainly need help in the backcourt,” Mack said. “When you graduate as many guys as we did and you lose a guy to transferring, and then a guy who had signed a national letter doesn’t show, you’re talking about a number of minutes we needed to get replaced.

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“We felt like one of the question marks of our team a year ago, although we had a great season and we were top 10 in the country almost the entire year, I can’t tell you the number of articles that surfaced about our point guard play. So that was something with David’s year of experience that he’d be a much better player as a sophomore and also felt we needed to get him and (sophomore) Josh Nickelberry some help.”

Meanwhile, Mack still has filled another of Louisville’s primary needs — a frontline player who can back up center Malik Williams. He says he’s still looking, but isn’t going to settle for a player who doesn’t meet the Cards’ standards.

“That would be our first area of need, but we’re not going to fill the scholarship just to get a warm body in there,” Mack said. “The transfer portal is always fluid and the last thing we want to do is take a player who’s not capable of helping us. So we’ll determine the best course of action as days develop and will continue to try to get the best player for our roster.

“If we feel like there’s no one who can help our team, we feel like we have a good enough roster right now to be one of the better teams in the league and compete for a title like we did this past year. Again, the transfer portal changes every day; it’s always fluid, and it’s our job as coaches to continue to monitor that and figure out who would best fit our team if and when that person shows up in the portal.”

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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