Taquan Dean was in pain again, but this time it was cause for encouragement, not alarm. Two weeks before the start of preseason practice the junior guard was feeling normal muscle soreness from rigorous workouts in the weight room, where he had spent little time since surgery to repair a sports hernia last June. "There's good pain, and there's bad pain," he says, "and I definitely know the difference."
Dean spent the second half of last season playing with the bad kind, and it was no coincidence that Louisville limped along then as well. After racing to a 16--1 start and the No. 4 ranking, the Cardinals dropped nine of their last 13 games, including a first-round matchup with Xavier in the NCAA tournament. Before his hernia Dean was 10th in the nation in three-point shooting (47.7%) and a ferocious ball hawk. After it his long-range accuracy (28.6%) and defensive intensity plummeted. The low point came in the tournament, when Musketeers guard Lionel Chalmers dominated the second half, and Dean, unable to contain him, fouled out. "That has stayed in my head," Dean says. "Chalmers taught me a big lesson. He showed me how to take over a game."
Doctors told Dean they were amazed that he tolerated the pain well enough to finish the season, but it was the recuperation that he found excruciating. For the first few weeks after surgery, the most strenuous activity he could handle was watching TV at his Neptune, N.J., home. "It drove me a little bit crazy," he says. "I didn't even want to watch basketball because it made me think about how much I wanted to be out there."
Now that he's healthy again, Dean might be able to channel that pent-up energy. At 6'3" he's capable of playing either at point or shooting guard, and coach Rick Pitino plans to use him at both spots. No matter where he lines up, Louisville will count on him to apply the defensive heat that fires up the Cardinals' running game. "After I got hurt and a couple of our other guys went down, we just couldn't put the pressure on the way we like to," Dean says. "But we're planning on getting back to where we were. We're ready to roll." --P.T.
November 22, 2004
2003--04 RECORD: 20--10 (9--7, T6 in C-USA)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Xavier in 1st round
Curtis Withers is not the conference's most efficient player, then Francisco Garcia is. He's a much improved, very versatile wing player and a legitimate go-to guy. He can make big shots down the stretch.... Up front you have depth and size: Ellis Myles, who missed all of last year with a knee injury; Otis George, who replaced him for a few games; and Juan Palacios. That gives them an advantage.... The one question mark is depth in the backcourt.... If things fall into place, they are a Final Four contender."