- Malik Williams is one of a few key freshmen for the Cardinals who will dictate how Louisville's season goes. Can the big man be a key interior presence?
It should come as no surprise to college basketball fans that freshmen have come to possess a significant portion of the star power in the sport. Just look at this year’s NBA draft, where the first upperclassman was not selected until Duke sophomore Luke Kennard with the No. 12 pick. So while some returning players will undoubtedly have a major impact in the 2017–18 season, it’s important to get to know the new faces who may come to occupy the spotlight. With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top 25 incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. We move to the No. 25 overall recruit, Louisville’s Malik Williams. (Note: Williams was ranked No. 24 in the composite before Marvin Bagley III’s reclassification bumped every freshman in the country down a peg.)
WHAT HE MEANS FOR LOUISVILLE’S RECRUITING CLASS
Williams was the top-rated recruit of Louisville’s five-man class before Brian Bowen committed in early June, and the 6’11”, 215-pound power forward will figure big in the Cardinals’ plans for 2017-18. He’s one of three Louisville commits among the top-75 players in the class of 2017, and the five-star recruit is also the No. 6 power forward in the class. Williams averaged 21.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocked shots per game in his senior season of high school, and he also has a better long-range game than the average big man.
HOW HE FITS
Louisville lost five players who averaged nine or more minutes per game last season, meaning there’s ample opportunity for each of its freshmen—especially Bowen and Williams—to earn big-time minutes or at the very least learn the ins and outs of Rick Pitino’s system. Williams was Pitino’s primary target in terms of recruiting in the class of 2017, and his game fits well with the Cardinals’ physical, defensive style of play.
Louisville is considered a contender going into 2017-18 despite losing two of its best players, Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Johnson, but getting small forward Deng Adel back for his junior season was a bonus for the Cardinals. With Williams, Pitino’s team replaced some of that lost talent, and the surprise addition of Bowen goes even further toward replacing that production. Barring catastrophe, this will be a top-10 team, in no small part thanks to this recruiting class.