LOUISVILLE, Ky. - At this point in time, it's well documented how thin the backcourt currently is for the Louisville men's basketball program. After losing over half of their roster during the offseason due to graduation and the transfer portal, the Cardinals head into the 2022-23 season with just two scholarship guards at their disposal.
While depth at guard certainly won't be the Cardinals' strong suit as they prepare for the inaugural year of the Kenny Payne era, the first-year head coach has been impressed with both scholarship guards - El Ellis and Fabio Basili.
Ellis was one of only six players who opted to return to Louisville after Payne, a former Cardinals himself who was a 1,000-point scorer and national champion, took the job at his alma mater back in March. Payne says that during his six months on the job, Ellis has elevated himself to the point where he embodies the program.
"They all have worked hard. El Ellis has embraced Louisville Basketball. I'm proud of that," Payne said Thursday after the Denny Crum Hall dedication ceremony, when asked who has surprised him the most. "Everybody has worked hard, but he has been a leader. He has pushed himself. I can't ask more of him than what he's done."
Ellis was arguably Louisville's most exciting player to watch last season. Although he struggled with consistency issues, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard regularly put on display his athleticism, shooting ability, and incredible ability to finish at the rim with an acrobatic flair. He averaged 8.7 points per game to finish as Louisville's third-leading scorer, averaged 1.6 assists per game, and was Louisville's top three-point shooter by shooting percentage at 36.0 percent.
With the depth issues in the backcourt, Ellis will take on more of a point guard role this upcoming season than the shooting/scoring guard role that he had last year. Payne has challenged Ellis all offseason to excel in this new role.
“He’s going to need to be self-aware and make sure to facilitate,” Payne said in The Field of 68's The Almanac. Payne also told The Almanac that Louisville is "going to have to be creative because I can’t play El Ellis 40 minutes a
That's where Fabio Basili comes in. The Cardinals will certainly have lineups where wings like Mike James, Kamari Lands and Devin Ree will take reps in the backcourt, but Payne is also very high on the true freshman Basili, who signed with the program in mid-August.
"Fabio will surprise people," he said. "Fabio is a very talented player. When we signed him, I know there were people out there saying he just a three star or two star. I don't know what that means, but I know that he can impact the game. I know that he brings the spirit and a love to basketball that's infectious, and translates to winning. That's why I wanted him here."
The 6-foot-4, 175-pound guard was not a nationally ranked prospect when he committed to Louisville, but it was not from a lack playing hard. He put up 19.6 points, 4.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game in his senior season at Oak Ridge, while also shooting 39.2 percent on three-point attempts. He was teammates with current Cardinal Mike James as a junior.
Payne also hasn't ruled out giving some playing time this season to Hercy Miller, a walk-on who joined the program from Tennessee State. Miller is the son of rap legend Master P.
"Hercy is just a workhorse," Payne said at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's 76th Annual Meeting earlier this summer "Defensively, he gets after it. He works hard, trains hard every day. He's gotten better since he's been here."
Overall, despite not having a ton of backcourt depth, he's confident his team's ability to handle the ball due to their versatility.
"I'm comfortable with Hercy Miller," Payne also said at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's 76th Annual Meeting. "He's been really good, he works his tail off. I'm good with (the guard situation). And we have wing players that can also handle the ball. We're versatile."
Louisville is set to conduct their first preseason practice on Friday, Sept. 30. The Cardinals' 2022-23 season tips off on Wednesday, Nov. 9 against Bellarmine at the KFC Yum! Center.
(Photo of El Ellis: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)
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