Notebook: Louisville Men's Basketball To Start Preseason Practice


LOUISVILLE, Ky - After an offseason full of uncertainties, the University of Louisville men's basketball program is set to begin full preseason practice sessions on Thursday, Oct. 15 ahead of the start of the 2020-21 season.

Prior to the start of the preseason, head coach Chris Mack & newly minted captains senior forward/center Malik Williams and graduate transfer guard Carlik Jones spoke with media today and gave a variety of updates surrounding the program.

Below is the transcript from their press conference as well as the videos:

Head Coach Chris Mack

(On if he feels like the team is where he wants them to be)

I don't know if you ever feel like you are where you want to be, whether it's a normal year or not. It's different. A lot of different things have happened for our players, for our coaches, for our program, for our University - anybody around the world. We're all trying to adapt, and it seems more normal when we're in the gym every single day with our guys. Starting tomorrow, there'll be even more normalcy as we practice each and every day. I'm not going to try to worry about comparing where we were at last year. I would tell you, all things being equal, we have a lot less experience on our team than we did a year ago. So it's only natural that we're a little bit behind where we were a year ago. But we feel good, and we're excited to get practice underway.

(On when the non-conference schedule could be released)

I think the the non conference schedule should be out here very, very soon - in the next three, four, five days. I think the conference schedule, you're asking the wrong person because I want that as quickly as I can get it. I don't know, quite frankly, when that schedule's coming - the ACC schedule. I don't even know our opponent for the ACC - Big 10 Challenge yet. But, gotta get going here soon. We should know hopefully soon.

(On if he was suprised that Malik Williams & Carlik Jones were voted as captains)

No. Malik was, obviously a year ago, part of the trilogy if you will. He was one of three captains named last year, so I thought it was only natural. He's done nothing but cement who he is as a player and person with our group. Carlik is obviously the guy who wasn't here a year ago, but arguably one of our most talented players. He's had a great voice. I think he's acclimated to his teammates extremely well. He's a winner, so I think players gravitate to him. Certainly Malik knows our system better, but I think both of those guys will do a terrific job as captains of our team.

(On the feedback he's received from Kentucky after releasing his video)

Well, I would say I don't have much feedback from Kentucky, other than some fans every once in a while. We're anxious and excited to play the game. The date, I'm pretty sure it's gonna be Dec. 26. But other than that, not a whole lot else. Not a whole lot to add.

(On how different the preseason practice schedule will look compared to years past)

I don't think a whole lot different. So you get 42 days prior to your first game. In those 42 days, you're only allowed to practice on 30 of them. That's no different from the last few years. You have to take off at least once a week by NCAA rules, but if you if you divide that 30 out of 42, you're obviously taking off more than once a week. So what we elect to do is now when we start tomorrow, we have 41 days to get 30 practice days in. That's just sort of the way that we're using it. Not a whole lot is different, other than we're not going to have Louisville Live, a Red-White scrimmage open to the public, a secret scrimmage or an exhibition game, like we would in years past. First night, November 25, we play. As a coaching staff, you better be prepared for anything. Especially from your own team not having seen them in any type of competition outside of playing against themselves each and every day in practice.

(On if team meetings can still be held in person due to small number of players)

We are. We meet in larger spaces. We don't gather in the film room, we watch film on the practice floor. If we have to have any type of meeting, we'll spread the guys out either on chairs on the practice court or in the stands of the practice gym. Just to make sure the message gets across in the best way that we can do and the best way we can do it. You just try to limit yourselves and close spaces. Our assistant coaches are going to watch film with the players just like they would any other year, and both parties will have their mask on. We're no different than every other school. It's done in football and all these different sports.

On the pitch for teams to join Louisville's MTE 'bubble')

When I put it out on social media, a bunch of our coaches made made calls. We had a pretty good perspective of who was playing and what MTE events and which ones were probable vs. which ones were probably going to be canceled. We tried to build sort of a stable teams that may want to participate in terms of what we saw. A lot of these are protected environments. I wasn't in Orlando for the NBA bubble, but with the Galt House being connected to Yum!, the ability for our health officials to test every day, for the coaches in agreement that we aren't going to leave the bubble, including you know teams that are right here, us, I think there were a lot of things. Now, you have to divide cost and we didn't know attendance figures, and quite honestly still don't. I think some of the schools that ended up jumping on felt like there was a little bit more certainty with our event. So we're excited to host several teams starting on (November) 25th.

(On if he delegated a player to keep others responsible w/COVID)

We've tried as best we can to get across to our players. They're a great risk of losing games, losing time on the court and the game that they love to play. We've had a few players that have had COVID, and quite honestly, a lot of them, you know have had symptoms for a day but then have been fine. But now they're out for 21 days because of the quarantining, the isolation period, the return to play protocol that we have in place. I think those incidents, if you will, have given our guys like great pause to make sure that how they're handling themselves away, from the time that we're with us in the practice facility, is responsible. Now, I'm not locking up the dorm and making those guys live in isolation for four months prior to our season start. I just think that's that's not reality. But I think our guys have done a terrific job, We also have graduate assistants that I trust wholeheartedly that live in a dorm with our players. As best we can, we've tried to caution our guys. If they want to play the season, they've got to do their part. They've done a pretty good job by and large.

(On how many teams will participate in Louisville's MTE)

I don't know. I know we have several contracts back. Quite honestly Dino Gaudio handles that. I'm not going to talk about it today, but I know the teams that we are playing. That'll be announced here very, very shortly. The one thing I would tell you, is not every team that's in the event is playing the same amount of games. That alters it a little bit. It's not like there's five teams in and they're all playing four games. There's a little bit of oddity to the schedule. There's a team or two that is going to play a couple games. That'll get announced here in the next week.

(On the team bonding challenges during COVID-19)

A lot of the time, that bonding, happens away from the coaching staff. But they're not able to go all different directions. They're not able to go home, they're here. They're together, and they've spent a lot of time with one another. When they get the opportunity over to our practice facility, whether that's to shoot with a teammate or come to a workout, I think there's an extra energy about them. It's been challenging, but I think our players probably spent more time together than in past years. I don't think we have any type of cliques on our team. I think our guys are a really fun group to coach, and I think they really enjoy being around one another. There are challenges when it comes to being able - for instance to take our team out to a team dinner. We normally have, the night before our first practice, a team meeting and then we go out to dinner, and obviously we're not going to do that. It's trying to keep exposure at a at a minimum for our team.

(On how he wants Malik Williams to grow in his senior year)

I think as a coach you want to see every player under you continue to get better and better. I will say that those first two things (leadership & defense) for us, in a year where he's not playing with five fifth-year seniors, needs to be even better than it was a year ago. He has to be by far the best defensive player on our team, if not the ACC, especially at his position. He's got a terrific IQ for the game, he sees things develop in ways and most big guys don't, and he's got to be able to communicate that to a younger group that may not have the experience in certain places that they did a year ago. His defense has to be high level for our team. I think as a captain, he has to be a terrific leader. He's got to be able to challenge, hold players accountable, hold teammates accountable. That's never easy. It sounds easy, but it's not. These are your dorm mates, these are your buddies, these are your equals every step of the way. Then all of a sudden you have to challenge a teammate. I think it should be easier for Malik, because he's not dealing with players that have been here longer than him. Usually seniors that it means a whole lot to, they relish in that role, and I'd love to see Malik growing up. Those are the two areas that he's been really good, and I need him to be elite. When it comes to his offense, I think that he's got to be a guy that we count on that can score. Both around the basket, facing up, shooting the ball - which I know he likes to do - and I want him to play confident with that. We're not going to just stick them in the post and ask him to play like Shaquille O'Neal did. We're gonna have him on the perimeter, we're gonna have him and pick and roll situations. He's going to have opportunities to make his teammates better as a passer, being a big guy, drawing the other team's biggest defender out on the floor. There's a lot of things that I need Malik to be better in, and I suspect he will. He cares a whole lot. He's a phenomenal teammate.

(On one time transfer rule and extra year of eligibility)

In regard to the rule of players being able to come back, I think that's awfully generous. I know the NCAA gets smashed on by a lot of people on different topics. As far as the transfer without penalty and sitting out a year in residence, I've gone on record and saying I don't think that's a good rule. I don't think I'll ever feel like it will be a good rule, or is going to be a good rule. That's just how I feel.

Senior Forward/Center Malik Williams

(On his leadership & defense and getting through to younger players)

I think on defense I just got to be the anchor. I got to be able to help guys in the right position and be in the right position myself. I always got to be there for everybody just so I have the ability to do my job right and just help other people succeed on that end of the floor. I just want to be that defensive banker Then leading, I just want to be the lead the guy. Who anybody can to at any time - talk, watch film, anything like that. Being there for guys is really what's big.

(On how to improve offensively)

I gotta get consistency in my jumper to start. Consistency and finishing around the rim, decision making. I know I need to have a plus in my assist to turnover ratio - just take care of ball. Be somebody with a good IQ who can get guys in the right position to make plays and what not. Just getting a consistent jumper and consistently finishes is the number one thing that I'm working on now.

(On who can help Malik with rebounding)

I think a lot of the guys can can be good at attacking the glass. We got a lot of people who are athletic with some length to them. I think Jae'Lyn Withers can be one of the really big guys on the glasses because of his athleticism and his quickness. I think that he will be somebody who's really big for us, but I think it has to be everybody.

(On Jae'Lyn Withers)

We can expect a lot from Jae'Lyn. He hasn't played real basketball since his high school days, so you just think about how that year off just took a toll on him. Being with (strength coach Andy Kettler) for the entire year last year it did a lot for him. I noticed the strength just as it kept on going. He got a lot stronger and that was huge for him, he's starting to get his feet under him more. I think that we can expect a lot out of Jae'Lyn, I think everything with Jae'Lyn is in his head. Once he gives his mind to the game, he'll be a great player.

(On what he's learned during COVID-19)

COVID-19 is difficult. For me it was just trying to keep a positive head. Seeing the numbers of over 200,000 COVID deaths. It's just about maintaining those rules: social distancing, keeping a mask. You know you think twice when you go to grab a door handle now - well, I do. I'm just thinking of all those things and just trying to get that message across to my teammates too because that's the one thing that can stop this issue.

(On if he'll utilize the extra year of eligibility)

Right now, I'm just focus on this year. Just trying to get through this year, get my academics right, and be my best on the court. I haven't really looked into that. Right now it's just focusing on this year, not thinking about next year. But the option is a blessing, so it's something I'll definitely consider.

(On comparing Carlik Jones to previous grad transfers)

He's different. Carlik is different than (Christen Cunningham & Fresh Kimble). He can really get to it on that offensive end. But he's more than just a scorer. His ability with the ball, his playmaking ability, the way that he can handle the ball screen, it's amazing some of the things that he can do. I like to joke with him that he's a little A.I. (Allen Iverson). He's going to show you guys a lot this year, I think everybody will like Carlik.

(On what it's like around the locker room with protocols)

That's the only part that's different - keeping the mask on your face. Having to check in, not being not being able to come over to the gym whenever we please like in previous years. But you know the vibe when it's time to get down to business, when we're on the court, or in a weight room, it's the same as previous years. It's just taking the precautions.

Graduate Transfer Guard Carlik Jones

(On Malik Williams' comparison to A.I.)

I wouldn't necessarily say I watched him a lot growing up. I've definitely seen him growing up and watched just highlights and stuff. But I don't really consider my game like his. For someone to say I play like them and I kind of am like him, I think is a big phrase for me. Of course a lot of people watch NBA guys and they do certain moves that those guys do. I might consider that at most. That's big time for him to say that.

(On being voted as a captain in his first season)

It definitely says a lot, especially being basically the new guy. I'm the new kid on the block. It means a lot, especially coming in as a new guy wanting to be welcome to the team. And these guys welcomed me with open arms. As a new guy you want to come in and be able to fit in and be able to build chemistry, and it was able to happen right off the right off the bat.

(On fellow teammates in the backcourt)

I definitely see a lot of a lot of talent. David (Johnson) is a big size guard. Young but very skilled. I see a lot of myself in David. The passing ability, the way he handles the ball, the way he sees the floor. That's always good to have two guards who can play both positions. As far as the team, I see a lot of talent. A lot of bigger guys than I'm used to. A bunch of 6-7, 6-8, 6-6 playing the three spot. Also everyone's work ethic. Everybody works hard. Everyone pushes each other, everyone wants to see each other succeed.

(On how ready he is to start practice)

I'm very excited, I'm very ready to go. Honestly, I wanted to start practicing when I first got to Louisville and it was in June. I'm definitely excited, I'm definitely ready to to get this going to see what we can do.

(On how long it took him to find his new role)

Like I said, within the first few days I felt welcome, and that's just off the floor. So when we were able to you know get up and down a little bit, just learning everybody's game, seeing everybody's game, she how everybody plays. I just felt like I fit in. A guard who can handle the ball, who can help guys, be in a position to score or be in a position to be better, was good. I thought it was different. The expectations I had were answered quicker than I thought it would be. I got here and everything was good, everything was running perfectly honestly. It was huge like off the court. For me to be here one or two days, and those guys already asking 'what are you doing, how are you feeling, are you excited to be here' and stuff like that. That was huge for me. It's the same way on the floor. Those guys are talking to me, being great teammates. Especially to a newcomer. They opened me welcome arms, and I just thought that everything was pretty good.

(On if he has to adapt his game)

(I can be the) same old player. I know Chris Mack has brought me in and allowed me to be myself. From what I'm seeing in workouts and stuff, me being myself is a perfect fit.

(On if he anticipates having the same numbers this season that he had at Radford last year)

I'm gonna try to be myself. I know my role, I know my situation. Last year I was at Radford University and I was in a different role and a different situation there. Here, I believe I'm in kind of a same role. But, I'm just going to take the game how it comes and do whatever it takes to win. If those numbers come how they were last year, then they come. But I'm here to win.

(Photo of Malik Williams, Chris Mack: Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

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