by Jeff Greer, Louisville Courier Journal
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The next few weeks will be the most important of Chris Mack’s tenure at Louisville thus far.
They might even be more significant than the upcoming season, too.
That’s because Mack and his staff will hit the recruiting trail aiming to close in on a handful of prospects they’d like to add in the 2019 signing class, Mack’s first with the Cards. The debut signing class for a new coach is as important as it gets in a high-profile job, especially at a program in need of some good news.
It feels fair to give Mack a mulligan for his first season before it even happens. Mack is a new hire who Louisville targeted early in the coaching search and never strayed in pursuit, so he’ll get some time to build a team in his image.
But the first full recruiting class — we’re not counting the one in the immediate weeks and months after he was hired — is pivotal. It’s pivotal for PR. It’s pivotal for team morale. And it’s pivotal for future recruiting classes.
A coach’s first class says everything about the direction of the program.
Knowing Mack’s history as an evaluator and recruiter, this class will closely resemble the type of group he wants to assemble in his new job, especially because Mack has so many scholarships to offer for the 2019 class.
Louisville already has three scholarships open now, and unless Mack and his staff find a late addition for this coming season, those will carry over to the 2019 group. Add in the three graduate transfers who will exhaust their eligibility after this campaign, and Louisville is looking at six openings.
College basketball is not like college football. There is potential in college hoops to remake a roster overnight (or in one recruiting cycle), and a six-scholarship class provides that opportunity for Mack.
The first prospect who verbally pledged to be a part of that class provided the first tea leaf. Josh Nickelberry, a class of 2019 guard, is the type of big guard Mack likes — he can run the pick-and-roll or space off of it as a shooter, and he can use his physicality as a perimeter defender in the hybrid pack-line defense.
Now Mack will want to add a few more physical, aggressive guards to pair with Nickelberry, plus some frontcourt depth.
Aidan Igiehon, a 6-foot-10 power post, is high on Louisville’s list and vice versa. He is a physical specimen who is already talented but has loads of potential.
Jahmius Ramsey is a chiseled 6-4 guard whose visit still has people around Louisville’s program buzzing, similar to Igiehon. Same goes for Rocket Watts, a Detroit guard who played for Team USA’s Under-18 team this spring.
Then there’s David Johnson, the Trinity guard who was once committed to Louisville and is still considered likely to re-commit to the Cards.
Several other prospects, like Jaelyn Withers, Isaiah Stewart, Samuell Williamson, Khalil Whitney, Jason Jitoboh, Jaykwon Walton, Patrick Williams and Jaylin Williams, among others, are also high on Louisville’s list. Most of the aforementioned prospects have either already visited Louisville or plan to in the near future.
The July recruiting period is when things pick up for both players and programs. It is a time when coaches become closers.
If Mack and his assistants closely watch a prospect over the next three weeks, then it’s clear Louisville is very interested.
As the next few weeks progress, pay attention to which prospects schedule official campus visits — trips the school pays for. That means the mutual interest is high and Louisville is one of the top contenders for the player. Typically, the sooner the visit comes after the July evaluation period, the higher the interest, though that’s not a hard-and-fast thing.
So yes, Mack and his staff are on the clock these next three weeks.
That’s why they’ve put in so much effort on the 2019 class the past three months. They hit the phones in the immediate hours after Mack agreed to coach Louisville, reassuring more than a dozen prospects that they still wanted to recruit them after pursuing them at Xavier.
The recruiting activity hasn’t slowed down since then, with that regular stream of campus visitors.
Now it’s closing time.
And it’s a monster opportunity to enhance Mack’s first impression on Louisville fans.