LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Like many college basketball programs in the age of the one-time transfer rule, Louisville is going to look radically different than it did this past year.
Following the end of a tumultuous 2021-22 campaign, once which saw them go 13-19 and mutually part ways with head coach Chris Mack midway through the season, just over half the scholarship players are moving on. Three players graduated, and five opted to enter the transfer portal.
But since taking the reigns as the new head coach of the Cardinals back on Mar. 18, Kenny Payne has made sure that Louisville's cupboard won't be bare for next season. He got six players to return for next season, and already has added three more from the high school ranks and the transfer portal.
So far, both Sydney Curry and El Ellis - Louisville's top two returning players for next year - like the core that Payne has to work with next year.
"With the players coming back, and having the foundation for the guys coming in, I feel very confident with the guys we have now," Curry told Louisville Report this past weekend. "I feel like we can be a very good team. Just laying the foundation, me being in my senior year. I'm gonna go out the right way."
On top of Curry and Ellis, Jae'Lyn Withers, Mike James, J.J. Traynor and Roosevelt Wheeler are also coming back for another year with the Cardinals. Since the season ended, Ellis has been pleased with the offseason efforts from each returner.
"I feel like we have a good core," he said in a recent interview with Floyd Street's Finest's Jeff Greer. "It's gonna be Mike's first year playing, but he's looking really good. Before I went home, he was dunking again, he's shooting the ball extremely well, he's been in the gym. Syd is working on his game and extending his range. J.J. is working on being on the perimeter, extending his game as well. Jae'Lyn is getting his knee back right, J.J. has been in the gym working."
Of course, Payne and his coaching staff have been active out on the recruiting trail as well. They got long time commit Kamari Lands to sign, landed another high school prospect in Devin Ree, and also pulled Brandon Huntley-Hatfield out of the portal.
"Kamari is young, super talented, has a lot of potential, Brandon as well, and also with Devin Ree," Ellis said. "I feel like we just got a really good core. We got young guys, we got older guys and I feel like it's really gonna gel together again."
But the roster construction is far from complete. Louisville still has four open scholarships for the 2022-23 season, and is in dire need for more backcourt help with Ellis being the lone true guard on the roster. Even with the obvious roster needs, Ellis is confident that they will be a significant asset given Payne's ability to identify, recruit and develop talent.
"Whoever else comes along, I feel like KP's not gonna bring anybody in here that doesn't want to work, and doesn't want to play at the next level, that doesn't want to win," he said. "He's gonna continue to bring around good guys, and we're just gonna build off what we had this year, and what we got coming in. I feel like we're going to have a good season."
(Photo of El Ellis: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)
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