New Louisville basketball coach Chris Mack has been on the job for around two weeks now, but he won’t be getting much time to acclimate himself thanks to a major challenge the program is already facing.
When Mack arrived, he had two scholarships to fill with most of the Class of 2018 already committed or signed already. Now, with Deng Adel and Ray Spalding hiring agents to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft, Mack has four scholarships to fill in order to round out his roster for the 2018-19 season.
Mack’s staff members will be vigilant for any opportunities to add talent in the Class of 2018, but it seems that their focus will be on graduate transfers. However, in an era of extremely high turnover thanks to both grad transfers and one-and-dones, that market can be incredibly competitive.
Louisville doesn’t necessarily need to fill all four scholarships with just anybody they can sign, but they do need to add talent and depth if Mack is to have the Cardinals competing for an NCAA Tournament bid in his first year. Then he can worry about attacking the prep ranks in the Class of 2019.
As of Tuesday, the Cardinals are currently in contact with four guards pursuing graduate transfers, after both Louisville and Albany guard Joe Cremo decided that they weren’t a good fit. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s Ehab Amin, Fordham’s Joseph Chartouny, USC Upstate’s Mike Cunningham and Florida Gulf Coast’s Zach Johnson have all heard from the Cardinals, according to The (Louisville) Courier-Journal’s Jeff Greer.
Both the talent pool and the number of players Mack and his staff show interest in will grow as we get closer to spring graduation dates. But they’re battling major college basketball programs for all four of the aforementioned players’ services and probably will continue to scrap with major powers for anybody new that shakes loose.
With the shadow of the FBI probe looming, this will be the first test of Mack’s ability to recruit at this level after years of having to system recruit at Xavier. If he can add at least a couple of talented graduate transfers to help Louisville in 2018-19 and bide the program time, it bodes well for his ability to attract blue-chip talent in the next cycle.
If he can’t, he’ll have his work cut out for him nightly in the ACC, where elite talent has traditionally ruled the day. Sure, there’s always the possibility that Mack is able to replicate what Tony Bennett has done at Virginia, but that’s a tall order, and Louisville has grown accustomed to recruiting at an extremely high level.
Even with everything swirling around the program, expectations at Louisville haven’t slipped, and that’s evidenced by David Padgett being run out of town despite a 22-win season under extraordinary circumstances.
Mack might not need to win a national title or even the ACC in his first year, but he needs to field a roster that can compete for a tournament bid or it will sew doubt that could taint the beginning of his tenure.