LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The 2021-22 college basketball season is almost here. Thursday afternoon, the Louisville men's basketball program gathered on the courts of the Kueber Center, and held their first practice of the 2021 preseason. The Cardinals conducted a roughly three-hour long practice to open up the preseason, and Louisville Report was there for it all.
Considering it was the very first day of practice, and teams can now practice for a max of four hours per day and 20 per week, there is bound to be an overreaction or two. But that being said, below is our notebook of the more notable happenings that transpired during the first preseason practice, accompanied by a post-practice interview with head coach Chris Mack:
- Mack and the rest of the coaching staff weren't joking when they said they've dramatically kicked the pace of play up. Players were always moving at full go no matter what drill they were running, and it was one of the faster basketball practices I've ever seen. In fact, one of the first drills they ran was a fast break passing drill, and they were flying down the court.
- At the same time, the players seemed to be putting forth as much effort as they could despite being visibly worn down towards the end. It was also an extremely competitive practice when it came time to run 3v3, 4v4 and 5v5's.
- Since the players first arrived back on campus, they had spent most of the time installing their offensive scheme. So for the start of the preseason, it was spent mainly working on their defense. For this practice, the staff started installing deep middle 1/3 ball screen defense, and then implementing it in half-court defensive sets. They were slow to pick it up at first, but then really started clicking later in practice. They did a really good job at selling a double team, only for one defender to backpedal and follow a cutter.
- Later in the practice, they ran a 3v3 half-court defensive drill, where the defense had to use the ball screen defense they had learned earlier in the practice. Once again, it took a couple tries for them to catch on, but once they did, the scout team was left with no conceivable options on the drive, as the pack line defense was being executed extremely well.
- Of course, they did work on some offense. In fact, one of the first drills they ran was a full speed fast break passing drill. Later on, they spent more work on perimeter swing passes and catching passes on the drive. It was mostly smooth, although there was the occasional offline throw both in drills and 5v5's.
- Let's briefly talk about player health. Malik Williams, Mason Faulkner and Roosevelt Wheeler, who all are dealing with some sort of long-term foot injury, all looked incredibly fresh, and seemed to be playing with no limitations. The one injured player was JJ Traynor, who spent the entire practice on the sideline. Mack later said after practice he was dealing with an "off and on" hamstring injury, but should be good to rejoin practice this weekend. No major cause for concern there.
- Now let's talk about the actual play of the players. While Jae'Lyn Withers wore the gold jersey to start the preseason, I'd say the most impressive player of the first practice was El Ellis. He was great both on and off the ball, was incredibly quick and precise on his downhill attack to the basket, and made a couple good passes down low on the drive.
- It's easy to see why Jarrod West, a graduate transfer, was voted as a captain. He was by far the most vocal player on the court, uplifting teammates, and taking accountability of mistakes that he or his team made. He look really good in spurts on both ends of the floor, as expected. Didn’t get to see a lot of his game on the outside, as he played mostly inside or on the drive, but he was able to hold his own against defenders who were bigger than him.
- Dre Davis might be in line for a breakout year based in the amount of effort he was playing with. He was driving to the rim with a fearless nature, staying focused on making the right play and taking a fair amount of contact. He also displayed his ability to shoot from long range a couple times. Another player who stood out effort-wise was Samuell Williamson, displaying it on both ends of the court.
- There wasn't a large effort on the outside shot in this practice, but several guys looked really good doing it when they did. As expected, Noah Locke and Matt Cross were the ones leading the pack in this regard. Speaking of Cross, he also looked good on the drive, and had a lot more athleticism than I expected.
- The front court might not be Louisville's strength, but it will be a lot better than most people expect due to the depth. Malik Williams was crisp on both ends of the floor, as expected. His post moves looked as good as ever, he was a stout presence on defense, and his leadership was clearly present. Sydney Curry is a certified bruiser who sets incredible screens, although he does need to lose a bit more weight, as he is around the 278-280 pound range. While not perfect, Gabe Wiznitzer did show signs of improvement from last year, and had a really good two-handed dunk where he posterized both Curry and Williams. Roosevelt Wheeler looks like he has loads of potential, and like Curry, has a very high motor, is always moving, and looks good on the defensive end. It’s almost inconceivable that he is coming off of an Achilles injury.
(Photo of Louisville Practice Court via University of Louisville Athletics)
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