May 14, 2004
I recently wrote about the best recruiting classes in the country, and Louisville's class would have been near the top. But then coach Rick Pitino got the bad news about Sebastian Telfair and Donta Smith declaring for the NBA draft.
What an incoming group Pitino would have had if Telfair and Smith followed through with their commitments to wear the Cardinals uniform!
The Telfair decision was not a total shock given the amount of money being thrown around in his sneaker deal with adidas. The point guard has marketability, and one can understand his going straight from high school to the NBA.
But it's also easy to understand why Pitino was upset with the news of Smith going pro.
Pitino had expected Smith to come to Louisville as a junior-college transfer from Southeastern Illinois Community College (juco transfers are considered part of a school's recruiting class each year). Smith, a 6-7 small forward, isn't ready for life in the pros. What could he be thinking? A year or two under the leadership of Pitino could help his development immensely.
The problem is ego. Smith is not projected as a first-round pick in this draft, so he wouldn't get guaranteed green -- no sure George Washingtons, baby! He's a potential second-rounder, going the way James Lang went last year.
Hopefully, Smith will change his mind, since the reports are that he hasn't signed with an agent. It would be wise for him to get different advice and join the Cardinals under Pitino. All indications are that he's not ready for the NBA yet, so why listen to the people who put visions of grandeur in your head? They have no idea what life is like playing at the next level.
Give me a break! With the way the NBA's draft system is, if you'll be a top-10 pick, fine, go pro early. But if not, why give up the opportunity to play and develop in a college setting? Especially if you're not a guaranteed first-rounder with that guaranteed first-round contract. Remember, if you're drafted in the second round, there's no guaranteed cash. Also remember that, unlike football and baseball -- which have multiple-round drafts -- there are only two rounds in the NBA draft.
It's amazing to me that someone like Donta Smith would give up a chance to play for a coach the caliber of Pitino. Smith would gain valuable experience, plus the practice time during the season that you don't get in the NBA with the rugged road schedule.
Louisville received more bad news when another recruit, forward Brian Johnson from Oak Hill Academy, suffered a knee injury.
The Cardinals did add a special blue-chipper: Juan Diego Palacios, a 6-8 forward from Our Savior New American School in Centereach, Long Island. He averaged 20.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals as a senior last season, shooting 51 percent from the field.
Johnson and Palacios are part of a class that includes 6-10 Terrance Farley of Louisville and 6-5 guard Lorrenzo Wade of Las Vegas. Wade led Cheyenne High School to a 31-1 record and the 2003 Nevada Class 4A state championship.
With Pitino on the sidelines and with returning stars like soon-to-be junior guards Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean, you know the Cardinals will remain a solid club regardless of their recent losses.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.