(Photo of Chris Mack: Scott Utterback - Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As the Louisville men's basketball program progresses through the offseason, they have experienced a decent amount of roster turnover heading into the 2021-22 season.
Up to this point, six Cardinals have departed the program. Aidan Igiehon, Josh Nickelberry and Quinn Slazinski transferred; David Johnson and Carlik Jones declared for the NBA; and Charles Minlend is not taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility.
Fortunately, head coach Chris Mack is supplanting all that lost talent with six high quality newcomers next year to make up for the losses.
Michael James and Roosevelt Wheeler are signees from the high school ranks; El Ellis is coming from JUCO; and Matt Cross, Jarrod West and Noah Locke are transferring from Miami, Marshall and Florida, respectively.
Talking to the media for the first time since the end of Louisville's season, Mack not only expressed his excitement for the incoming players, but believes the Cardinals will be more talents than in 2020-21.
"As we look forward, we're excited about our roster, we think we have more talent than we did a year ago," Mack said. "We have FaceTime conversations with those kids almost daily, and they're excited to get here. Again, few of them for the very first time to ever be in Louisville."
Talking about the three Class of 2021 signees, Mack was complementary about James' defensive versatility and effort, and Ellis' all-around athleticism.
(James) is a versatile defensive player. 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," he said. "(Ellis) has burst with the ball, his end-to-end speed's really good, he's got a lot of athleticism."
James, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound forward, put up 19.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists 1.3 blocks, and 1.0 steals while shooting 58% from the field and 44% on three-point attempts during his senior season for Orlando (Fla.) Oak Ridge.
Also in the Sunshine State up at Tallahassee Community College, Ellis, a 6-foot-3, 170-pound point guard, averaged 14.3 points, 4.5 assists and 3.9 rebounds. A two-time Panhandle Conference Player of the Year, he also shot 47.9% and 40.3% on threes.
Wheeler is coming off of an Achilles injury that forced him to miss his entire senior season, but was recently cleared by his doctors. The 6-foot-10, 220-pound center averaged 15.8 points, 11.9 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game in his junior year for Richmond (Va.) John Marshall.
"We still have to get our hands on him and see where he's at, but he's a big body, he's got a high motor," Mack said. "He hasn't played in a year, so he's really itching to start doing some things.
As for the three transfers, Cross, West and Locke, they will have a more immediate impact on the 2021-22 season due to their proven track record. In fact, West is already drawing comparisons by Mack to another transfer of his during his time at Louisville.
"West is the quintessential point guard. Guy shoots the ball at a high level, he's in the master's program in business here," he said. "He's like a Christen Cunningham type. He can run a team, he's already branched out and reached out to all his future teammates. He's so daggone excited to come to Louisville."
The 5-foot-11, 181-pound point guard averaged 12.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game this past season for Marshall, accompanied by 6.0 assists-the 12th-most in the nation-to just 2.1 turnovers. He also shot 45.8% from the field and 40.8% on three point attempts, resulting in being named a Second Team All-Conference USA selection.
Transitioning to Cross and Locke, who are coming from Miami and Florida, Mack praised their shooting abilities as well, mainly because he's seen it firsthand. Mack recruited Locke while at Xavier, and Cross played a key role off the bench for Miami in their upset win over Louisville last season. Cross shot a Miami-best 40.0% on three-point attempts, while Locke shot a Florida-best 40.4%.
"Matt's ability shoot threes-I mean you look at Jarrod, you look at Noah, and you look at Matt, and those guys can shoot the ball," he said. "That's something our team missed this past year, at least I know their coach missed it."
Cross, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound small forward, was averaging 6.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists off the bench before departing the Canes. Locke, a 6-foot-3, 203-pound shooting guard and regular starter, put up 10.6 points and 2.4 rebounds.
Louisville still has two more available scholarships available, though Mack is unsure if he'll add more players to the roster. Mainly, he is waiting to see who enters the transfer portal between now and the start of the 2021-22 season.
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