LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A major question regarding the 2022-23 roster for the Louisville men's basketball program was finally answered on Wednesday.
Former Memphis forward Emoni Bates, who had been heavily linked to the Cardinals since entering the transfer portal back in April, announced that he would not be continuing his basketball career at UofL, instead opting to return to his hometown of Ypsilanti to play for Eastern Michigan.
For many programs, landing Bates at this time of the year would be the icing on the cake. Most teams have their rosters long assembled by late June or early July, and they are usually spending this time on offseason workouts. 95 percent of D1 programs would have viewed Bates' addition as more of a luxury than a necessity.
But for Louisville, regardless of the distractions and off-the-court drama that would have came with him, Bates was more so in the latter category for the Cardinals. As the calendar is getting ready to flip to July, Louisville has just nine of their 13 scholarship roster spots filled.
The Cardinals only have six returners from their 2021-22 squad that went 13-19. Sydney Curry, El Ellis, Mike James, Jae'Lyn Withers, J.J. Traynor and Roosevelt Wheeler all decided to come back and play for head coach Kenny Payne in his first year at the helm. Payne was able to land Brandon Huntley-Hatfield as a transfer from Tennessee, as well as 2022 prospects Kamari Lands and Devin Ree.
With the start of the 2022-23 college basketball season roughly four months away, where can Louisville go from here as it pertains to adding to next season's roster? As it turns out, not very far.
As you can imagine, there are very few available quality players left for Louisville to sign. Out of Stadium's Top College Basketball Transfers for 2022-23, which comprised of 102 total players, none are left. In fact, Bates was the last one to commit.
There aren't many ranked Class of 2022 prospects left, either. Using the 247Sports Composite, then researching to see which uncommitted prospects have actually committed somewhere - whether that be to a low-major, JUCO, or reclassified to 2023 - only 17 of the 327 prospects in the 2022 cycle that are ranked are still available. Here are all of them, accompanied by their class ranking:
- PF Kyran Ratliff (No. 232)
- C Mady Traore (T-No. 234)
- PG D.J. Dudley (T-No. 234)
- PG Mason Manning (No. 242)
- SG Jeffrey Brazziel (No. 254)
- PF Jaret Valencia (No. 262)
- C L.J. Glover (No. 268)
- PF Joyful Hawkins (No. 275)
- SF Javion Guy-King (No. 279)
- C Jerome Beya (No. 288)
- PF Jorge Ochoa (No. 291)
- SF Trae Clayton (No. 300)
- C Didier Maleng (No. 301)
- PG Christian Watson (No. 312)
- SF Christian Moore (No. 315)
- CG Willie Wilson (No. 319)
- C Donovan Short (No. 325)
The best available high school prospect isn't even ranked inside the top-200. In fact, should any these 17 players sign with Louisville, they would be among the lowest-ranked scholarship players to play for the Cardinals in the modern recruiting era.
Since 2002, only eight players ranked No. 230 or lower in the 247Sports Composite have signed to play for the Cardinals on scholarship. Ironically enough, many of those eight went on to have successful careers at Louisville, such as Russ Smith, Ryan McMahon, Preston Knowles, Stephen Van Treese and Mangok Mathiang.
But when taking into consideration Louisville's roster needs, only a few of the available ranked high school guys are even viable options. While guys like Kamari Lands and Devin Ree can slide over from the wing and play at the two guard spot, El Ellis is the only true scholarship guard currently on the roster - and he was streaky last year with the ball in his hands. Louisville did add former Tennessee State and Xavier guard Hercy Miller, but he's a walk-on that averaged roughly 2.0 point per game before getting hurt.
Even Louisville's next piece to the puzzle isn't even a guarantee to join the roster. After unranked Orlando point guard Fabio Basili took an official visit to Louisville in mid-June, the writing was on the wall that he would be joining the Cardinals much sooner rather than later.
However, that hasn't happened yet, and there's a reason why. Earlier this week, Card Chronicle's Mike Rutherford reported on his radio show, "The Mike Rutherford Show", that Basili's transcript from Oak Ridge HS is what is holding up the process. Even if his transcript is cleared, there's still a lack of clarity on if he is part of the Class of 2022 or 2023.
Louisville's next best option to grab a guard might be to jump on a surprise transfer. That's what the Cardinals did last season when Mason Faulkner transferred from Western Carolina to Colorado, only to enter back into the portal a couple months later.
But banking on that to happen is probably not the best practice for Louisville. Trying to go after one of remaining high school guard prospects probably isn't either, considering they would be a project player and will very much get lost in the shuffle when the recruiting in 2023 is expected to pick up. Even Basili isn't even a slam dunk to join for aforementioned reasons.
In all likelihood, barring some sort of last minute surprise, the Cardinals will be heading into the 2022-23 season with the roster as it is currently assembled - and that's not all bad. Sure, the situation in the backcourt isn't exactly great, but there is talent and potential in the other areas fo the court.
At the wing, Kamari Lands is a high-four-star prospect with lots of upside, Mike James' rehab following his Achilles injury is going well, and Devin Ree gives Louisville some needed shooting prowess.
Sydney Curry and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield have potential to be a deadly starting front court duo. Then you have Jae'Lyn Withers, Roosevelt Wheeler and J.J. Traynor, who all have the potential to make big leaps in their game thanks to Payne's reputation as a big man developer.
But as we all know, college basketball is a guard's game. El Ellis showed flashes a brilliance last season, but also demonstrated that he's likely more suited to be a shooting/scoring guard than a true point guard. Considering he will likely get most of the reps at point guard this upcoming season, that's a gamble that will either pay off massive dividends or blow up in Louisville's faces.
Quite frankly, it's getting to the point where Louisville fans probably need to start accepting that the roster is already set. Especially considering that UofL's punishment from the NCAA is on the horizon, and it could include scholarship reductions.
Time will tell as the summer goes on.
(Photo of Kenny Payne: Pat McDonogh - Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK)
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