LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Before the 2021-22 season even had a chance to tip-off, the Louisville men's basketball program has already suffered a setback.
Guard/forward Mike James, who is entering his first season of collegiate basketball, suffered a torn left Achilles during practice Wednesday. An MRI Thursday later confirmed the injury, and he is set to undergo surgery at Norton Hospital Friday.
"First and foremost, I feel for Mike," head coach Chris Mack said in a statement. "He's a phenomenal young man and was poised to have a stellar freshman season.
"Secondly, I feel for his teammates, coaches, family and friends that have supported him daily. Lastly, I feel for Louisville fans who will miss seeing a terrific addition to our program. I have no doubt however that Mike will be back better than ever next season."
It was the latest in a string of significant injuries suffered over the past two preseasons. Last year, forward/center Malik Williams developed a new fracture in his right foot, while guard Charles Minlend suffered a sprained MCL.
So what does the loss of James mean for the Cardinals? How does that impact their outlook for the 2021-22 season?
At 6-foot-6 and 195 pounds, the Orlando, Fla. native provides a lot of versatility that Coach Mack loves in his system. Whether it was on offense or defense, James felt comfortable playing anywhere from the one to the four spot.
"(James) is a versatile defensive player," Mack said in May. "He can guard, he loves to guard. Offensively, he's sort of worked his way throughout his high school career from being an inside guy, to more of an outside guys as time's going on."
During his senior season, James averaged 19.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 blocks per game. He led Oak Ridge to the Class 7A state semifinals, and named the 2020-21 Orlando Sentinel boys basketball Player of the Year, as well as the Class 7A Player of the Year in Florida
In July, James himself said he envisioned himself having a "good year" and "good fit" if he continued on his upwards trajectory during practice. In the few preseason practices he partook in before his injury, his versatility on both ends of the floor, as well as his outside shot, certainly stood out.
But when the season finally arrives next month, how much time would James had truly seen? Thanks to the amount of quality newcomers and returners to the Cardinals, it would have been tough for James to carve out a substantial role in his freshman campaign.
Most of his time would have been spent as an off-ball guard or out on the wing. At the two guard, he would have likely been behind both Noah Locke and El Ellis. Over at the wing, the same can be said for Samuell Williamson and Matt Cross. Not to mention that Dre Davis would also see time between those spots, and get the nod over James.
The way that Louisville's roster is set up, with the depth and versatility that is has, it can withstand being without a player for extended time - maybe even two or three. The main players that Louisville would truly miss for extended time are Williamson, Jae'Lyn Withers, and maybe a healthy Malik Williams.
Losing James, without question, is a setback for both him and the team. He is someone who you could plug in almost everywhere on the court, on both ends, if someone had an off night or needed to exit the game.
But does it mean that Louisville's season is derailed because of it? Early indicators say no, but that is more of an indictment to the roster construction than James. If players continue to drop like flies, then the Cardinals might have a problem.
(Photo of Mike James via HoopSeen)
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