CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The 2021-22 college basketball season is just around the corner. In less than a month, the Louisville men’s basketball program will officially be back in action.
The Cardinals will kick things off with an Intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday, Oct. 16 at the KFC Yum! Center, follow that up with a pair of scrimmages against Kentucky State (Friday, Oct. 29) and West Georgia (Wednesday, Nov. 3), then officially start the season with their home opener vs. Southern on Tuesday, Nov 9.
Before the start of the new season, the Atlantic Coast Conference held their annual ACC Tipoff event in Charlotte, N.C. Louisville head coach Chris Mack, graduate transfer guard Jarrod West, and fifth-year forward/center Malik Williams were in attendance, and here is everything they had to say during the main media session:
Q. Coach, just what you can say these last 18 months have done to kind of show you not only your team but the things that are important in life, dealing with a pandemic, NIL comes up, there's realignment in the background. It's been a busy day for a coach that had nothing to do with practice or games?
CHRIS MACK: Yeah. That's probably not well answered in a sound byte. A lot of change. Not just in our sport but in our country.
And, you know, sometimes you're not necessarily prepared for things to hit you in the face and you're adjusting on the fly. In our sport, particularly NIL has really changed a lot of things, and I think we're all searching as we move forward to find that balance of doing what's best for your student athletes, understanding that with an amateur sport for a long time -- I know that NCAA is trying to still stick with that definition, then you add the transfer portal. It's changed tremendously.
And so we have to adapt. We have to try to make our sport, continue to promote our sport, one of the best in the world. I think that so many people love college basketball and follow college basketball. This league has been a trend setter for so long, but there are a lot of changes that we're all dealing with.
Q. Coach, from the podium, winning 9 of your first 10 games last year was a great way to open up the season, especially all that was going on globally. Cardinals went 4 and 6 to round out the season.
CHRIS MACK: Thank you.
Q. Was there something about the way the season progressed and the day-to-day uncertainty that may have played into opening hot but then closing not so hot?
CHRIS MACK: It was just a tough truncated season for our team. We had multiple pauses. We did not know from time to time how many guys were practicing, who was able to practice, who was able to play in games.
We took two whoopings by Carolina and Wisconsin with no real preparation leading up to the games. I don't know if that was the final indicator or separator from us playing in the NCAA tournament or not. We were the last team -- or the first team out, and such a fine line. When you don't have the ability to practice every day, I felt for our guys. But we played really good basketball for the majority of the season. But with the inability to practice at times and have our teams ready conditioning wise, we just weren't able to get to the point where we wanted. And that was to celebrate an NCAA tournament appearance and be able to play in the postseason. Which was ironically taken away from all of us that made the tournament two years ago.
Q. I heard what coach said as far as NIL a little bit, just what you guys think about it, how you've kind of maybe gotten some information, if the coaching staff has sat you down and how much you know about it, kind of how you want to utilize it and if you felt like it was due time that it finally happened for players? Malik?
MALIK WILLIAMS: I felt like it was huge not only for us but just college basketball in general. I felt like it's at a point where a lot of people are ready to go to that next level for that exact reason. So to have the ability to make money from our name, image and likeness while still playing in college basketball is great for the game and is great for us, because a lot of people come from nothing and having the ability to play college basketball and also support your family back home, it's a blessing.
So I think that it's great for the game. And it's great for us.
JARROD WEST: Yeah. I agree. I think NIL is a great opportunity for all of us. I felt like it was bound to happen at some point, and I think that it's a great change for college basketball. It definitely brace a different dynamic to the game and the sport. But I think it's definitely beneficial to us as players. It's going to help us with our brand. I think it's going to impact college basketball a lot more. Recently, a lot of people have been skipping over college, whether it's go overseas, enter the G league, instead of playing that one reason of college basketball or whatever it is to try to pursue their professional career.
I think that's going to help us out a lot from a college basketball standpoint. But I think specifically as players this gives us a great opportunity to profit off of our name, image and likeness and help build our brand.
Q. Jarrod, you spent four years in high school and really up to this point in your college career in the state of West Virginia, so why the change of scenery? Why Louisville?
JARROD WEST: I played four years of college basketball at Marshall University, but I felt like after the four years it was just a great opportunity for me to try something new.
The grad transfer route was available, and through COVID, honestly as bad as it was, it actually gave me this opportunity. Entering the transfer portal and to get to here from other coaches, especially Louisville, I just feel like Louisville was a great opportunity for me.
Playing at this level was something I always wanted to do growing up, and it's an opportunity of a lifetime. It's definitely different than what I've used to. Like you said, I've been in West Virginia my entire life so to get out is different. But I'm excited for it. I'm enjoying it so far. It's been great so far, and it's a great opportunity for me.
Q. Malik, you're not only team co-captain, but you're the first three-time captain in U of L history. Comment on what this means to you.
MALIK WILLIAMS: You know, it means really a lot. Just to be the first name ever three times captain is saying a lot in itself. And, you know, coach will tell you his first year here we kind of had a team meeting where everybody had a sit down and talk about what we could do to help improve the team and how we could all get better, and my individual thing was maturity.
So I kind of took that in. And I didn't feel like I was immature, I just couldn't show really -- I didn't know when to really lock in. So the next three seasons to be voted as a team captain by my teammates, it was really good. That was a great thing for me, just to show the growth from my sophomore year to junior year, and just holding that up today.
So it's a blessing, and I'm happy that I'm the first three-time captain ever.
Q. Coach, what does Malik mean to a team given a team that has so much diversity to it?
CHRIS MACK: I joke with Malik all the time. When I first met this guy he was coming out of high school and he came on an unofficial visit to Xavier with his mom, Natasha, and he sat on my couch in my office, and Malik slumped down. I don't know if his eyes were open. I remember when he walked out, man, I don't know if that kid is going to make it. And to be here on a podium with a guy that, as you said before, has been named a three-time captain at one of the most historic programs in college basketball, I couldn't be prouder of him.
Personally, he's gone through a lot. I feel for him. What he's gone through as a player, through injuries, through disappointments, through rehab. Those days get lonely. It's just you and the athletic trainer. You don't feel part of the team. Guys walk back into the locker room after practice. They don't joke with you about what happened in practice. You're just sort of by yourself.
And I experienced that in college, so I have a soft spot in my heart for what he's gone through. But to answer your question, he means everything to our program right now. He's an everyday guy. He shows up and he works his tail off. He holds his teammates accountable. He's got one of the biggest voices on our team. Not biggest impacts, biggest voices.
And he does have an incredible impact, both on young guys and his peers. So I'm excited for him to be able to play his senior year without injury, knock on wood. He's had a great preseason. He's been probably the most impactful player in our program. In the preseason practices we've had I'm excited to watch it unfold this year.
Q. Coach Mack, so much new with this team this year, new assistant, so many new players. Have you ever had an off season like this? And what kind of mood does that bring to this group as you kind of get ready for the season?
CHRIS MACK: Yeah. I think college basketball 2021 is a lot about change. My first question here, whether it's name, image and likeness, transfer portal, I mean, rosters look totally different from one year to the next. I'm not here to say whether it's good or bad for college basketball. It's just reality.
It's funny though because the rules have changed in terms of our ability to work with our players over the off season. So we get four hours a week. We're on court, we're practicing more than ever. And by the time we really reach October, I don't feel like I have eight newcomers. I know our fans probably do because they've never seen these guys play and our first public scrimmage is on Saturday, but I feel like Jarrod's been my point guard for a long time now and I feel like -- Malik has been here forever. But I think we got a great group. I think we have a hungry group. I've never coached 14 scholarship players. I think we have depth, we have shooting. So we're really excited to get this season under way.
Q. Jarrod, finish us out. What do you think the similarities and what do you think the differences are going to from the league you just left to the league you're coming into?
JARROD WEST: I think the biggest difference is that the ACC is probably the best league in the country, and coming from Conference USA it's definitely a jump and definitely an adjustment. There are definitely some good really teams and good players in Conference USA, but the ACC is definitely a different level. I think that's where the biggest challenges the biggest difference is going to be between the two leagues I would say.
Similarities, at the of the day, it is basketball. So I feel if I go about it the way I prepared before and I stick to that preparation stick to my work ethic, stick to believing in myself trusting my teammates and coaches I think I'll be just fine.
There's definitely going to be some ups and downs, some challenges, some obstacles, but at the end of the day, I believe in myself. My coaches and my teammates believe in me. And at the end of the day, it's basketball and we want to win. That's the most important thing. That's the ultimate goal and that's my main focus. Whether it's in Conference USA or the ACC, that's my ultimate goal is to win. I'm just excited for the season. Excited for this opportunity.
(Photo of Chris Mack: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)
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