I meant to post these thoughts earlier, but am just now getting around to it. In this morning’s column, I spent so much time writing about what was happening at practice that I didn’t say much about my impressions of it.
Sometimes I call the column “the box.” For years, the copy desk shook its head at me for writing too long. Now, in the box, it’s the same length every day.
I think it came across in the column that I can see why Pitino said during yesterday’s media day interview that “Terrance Jennings is the key to our team.”
Samuels will be outstanding, though he’ll still have to take some knocks in the Big East. But what happens when Samuels goes to the bench is another story.
You’ll remember that U of L really didn’t begin making runs and contending in the Big East until it was able to sustain its level of play when David Padgett went to the bench. That’s what Derrick Caracter gave the Cardinals, and now it’s what Jennings will have to provide.
He has gotten off to a good start. He’s put on 10 or 15 pounds and has the look of a legitimate post presence. He just needs some polish. He probably doesn’t have the tools Samuels has, but he should be pretty good by the end of the season.
Of the other newcomers, Jared Swopshire is going to be a really good one, too, but it’s hard to see him making much of an impact this season. He’ll have a chance to pick his spots, and I think maybe the best hope is that he could make the kind of appearances that you saw from Preston Knowles last year.
Other thoughts …
While everyone talks about this team’s frontcourt (and Sports Illustrated ranked it as the nation’s best), my focus yesterday was really on the backcourt. For the first time in a long time, we’re not talking about question marks anywhere at the guard spot. With Andre McGee and Edgar Sosa in one guard rotation and Jerry Smith and Knowles at the other, U of L is as seasoned and deep as it has been at guard since Pitino has been here. All of them have a good grasp of the press and half-court defense. They can all shoot.
I asked at media day yesterday about the 3-point line moving back, and Pitino assessed it this way: “Not a factor.”
McGee agreed, “When they put this court in at the Yum! Center, it already had the new line painted on it. So we’ve already been practicing with the new line for a year. It hasn’t had any affect on us, except that we took too many threes from a step behind the line last year and coach kept yelling at us to step into the line.”
Terrence Williams yesterday guaranteed, “I will be playing in the first game, no doubt.” He watched practice from the sideliens, on an exercise bike. He’s still wearing the Jewish Hospital bracelet that they gave him when he checked in for knee surgery.
“I’ll take it off when I can get back on the court,” he said.
One of the funniest things that I meant to get into the column but could not was this — before practice, 7-foot student assistant Clarence Holloway, whose career ended after heart surgery for a genetic cardiac condition, was draining three pointers and beating what looked like all comers from behind the line. I’d never seen him shoot that way. I watched him make four in a row at one point, and maybe 7 out of 10. Sure, it’s a set shot, but when you’re that tall, does it matter?
McGee looks like he’s in the best shape since he’s been at U of L. His knee feels good. He’s lost 15 pounds.
“I haven’t had fast food in five months,” he said, and he was wistful.
He also, according to teammates, is now capable of a windmill dunk.
“I want one ESPN dunk before I’m out of here,” he said.
Pitino can be pretty creative in his criticism. Instead of a lecture on offensive rebounding, he waded into a group of players and said, “You’ve got to get on the offensive glass. If you see a teammate, a veteran guard take a challenged shot, a 22-percent shot, from one of your veteran leaders, you’ve got to get in there to the glass and clean up after him.”
Earl Clark was just himself. He’s got this high-pitched voice and demeanor that would make you think he’s 14 years old, if not for his physical presence. But Pitino says he has gotten serious about his game since his brief foray into the NBA Draft waters.
“Nothing really happened that made me come back,” Clark said. “I just thought about it a lot. I was sitting there in the hotel and thinking about our team and my teammates. I knew it would be a tough call to make to Coach P, because I knew he’d be all over me. But it wasn’t so bad.”
Pitino said Clark returned with a new work ethic, and not just on the basketball court.
“We had double sessions yesterday,” Pitino said. “And even after the second one, he was still in the gym for an hour working on his jump shot.”
Smith said: “The thing about Earl is that everybody knows, if he works hard, he’s going to be the best player in the building wherever he goes.”
All in all, it was an interesting day in U of L’s building.