Column: With early recruiting rejections, Chris Mack gets smacked by reality of Louisville job


By Mark Story - Lexington Herald-Leader



In many ways, Chris Mack is off to an impressive start as Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball coach.

The former Xavier head coach has handled the public relations aspect of introducing himself to a new fan base like a pro. I have lost count of how many Louisville sports radio shows I’ve heard interview Mack.

Unlike the previous full-time U of L men’s basketball coach, Mack makes skillful use of social media. From wishing former Cardinals star Russ Smith happy birthday to boasting about eating chicken wings at a Jefferson County establishment to posting videos of his kids, Mack knows how to utilize Twitter to leave a positive impression.

Most impressively, since U of L junior standouts Ray Spalding and Deng Adel announced they were turning pro, not one of the Cardinals’ eight remaining scholarship players has announced plans to transfer.

That is no small thing, given the uncertainty that will hang over the Louisville men’s basketball program until there is resolution in the alleged Brian Bowen recruiting scandal.

Yet in one vital area, Mack has already been smacked by the current reality of U of L basketball.

So far, Mack has faced one rejection after another in working the college basketball version of free agency — the graduate transfer market — while searching for quality guards to add to a returning roster with only two scholarship backcourt players.

Louisville pursued South Carolina-Upstate guard Mike Cunningham. He chose Oklahoma State.

U of L went after Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods. He picked Ohio State.

The Cardinals made a play for Fordham’s Joseph Chartouny. He went with Marquette

Mack offered Florida Gulf Coast transfer Zack Johnson. He decided on Miami.

Louisville was among many big-time programs in pursuit of Albany’sJoe Cremo. He has yet to make a decision, but has eliminated U of L from his list of finalists.

Have you detected a trend?

What makes the rejections from a string of grad-transfer backcourt players so disturbing is that Louisville is probably one good veteran guard away from having a solid team next season.

That so many players have so far said no to filling that void may tell us — and Mack — something about the scale of the challenge the new U of L head coach faces.

In major-college sports, the one thing that consistently kills the acquisition of talent is uncertainty.

One reason I’ve felt Louisville’s program is in some jeopardy of “slipping” is that the Cardinals could be looking at years of an uncertain future until the Cards’ alleged recruiting violations in the Bowen case are adjudicated by the NCAA.

As you recall, it emerged in the ongoing FBI investigation of corruption in men’s college basketball recruiting that a U of L assistant coach from the staff of then-Cardinals head man Rick Pitino was in the room when representatives of adidas were allegedly launching a plan to make a six-figure payment to the family of Bowen contingent on the five-star forward’s attending Louisville.

The FBI has asked the NCAA not to investigate anything turned up in the pay-for-play corruption investigation until all criminal cases brought by the federal government work their way through the courts.

That could take years.

Complicating things even more, Louisville is already on NCAA probation from the previous strippers/escorts for recruits scandal.

For all those reasons, U of L should be the easiest men’s basketball program in the country to “negative recruit” against.

When Mack nevertheless left Xavier to take on the task of guiding U of L through this period, I figured it meant the ex-X head man was confident he could get players to come to The Ville in spite of the uncertainty.

We’ll see.

This spring, Louisville is still pursuing high school guard Courtney Ramey — who originally committed to Pitino and U of L before decommitting after the Bowen scandal broke — and traditional transfer MaCio Teague, who is leaving UNC-Asheville and will have two seasons of eligibility after sitting out 2018-19.

U of L’s barren efforts so far to harvest the graduate transfer market could be an early indicator of the height of the mountain Chris Mack will have to scale to keep Louisville men’s basketball among the nation’s elite.

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By Mark Story

Lexington Herald-Leader