According to several reports from writers including Evan Daniels, Jody Demling, and Dave Telep, the University of Louisville is no longer in the mix for former Xavier wing Dez Wells. The former All-Conference player would have been a major late pick up for the Cards, but the team simply did not have an available scholarship after adding center Mangok Mathiang. Wells is now on Kentucky’s campus and will reportedly be there until Friday.
It is tough to think after overcoming all the injuries and criticism in taking the Cards to a Final Four last season that Rick Pitino could still be open for intense criticism, but this is definitely a situation where the future Hall of Fame coach will be questiones. Mangok Mathiang was a virtually unheard of prospect who was added to the team after point guard Terry Rozier failed to qualify. Well known scouts like Daniels had never even seen him play and doubted that he would ever wear a Louisville uniform. It is also important to note that the frontcourt depth is deep, already having Gorgui Dieng, Montrezl Harrell, Stephan Van Treese, Zach Price, Angel Nunez (should he stay at the 4), and Chane Behanan on the roster. It seemed very odd to add another big man to the roster as opposed to a wing or point guard, positions the team needed more depth at. Yet, with the incredible success that Pitino has had with Dieng, it is not too surprising that he wanted to take on a very similar prospect. On the other hand, it appeared to some fans out there he was filling an open scholarship just for the sake of filling it. The move was certainly questioned, and fans wondered how it would affect potential 2013 recruits, but for the most part remained open minded. After all, the man just took this team to a Final Four against all odds. He deserves the benefit of the doubt.
It was announced this week Wells was deemed innocent of sexual assault, and accusation that got him kicked off of Xavier’s basketball team and expelled from the university. Shortly thereafter, news broke that Louisville was on his short list of schools he would like to attend along with Maryland and Texas. Fans were cautiously optimistic. This was a proven player from a very good team that would be playing with something to prove. Currently on the Cards staff are a former Xavier assistant in Kareem Richardson and Wells’ former high school coach in Kevin Keatts. With the opportunity to also play on a national championship contender, the odds looked to be in the Cards favor. Yet, where would the scholarship come from? Would someone have to walk on? Would someone be pushed out? It had the look of a pretty bad Public Relations situation. Some speculated Van Treese would once again be asked to transfer. That move would be an absolute PR disaster and more importantly, a morally reprehensible move by Pitino. That was not going to happen. Others suggested Mathiang would leave. This would look extremely bad as well, as how can a coach force a kid out after he has not even finished unpacking his bags? The coaches at IMG Academy would likely not look too favorably on it, either, and Pitino might as well kiss his future recruiting chances there good bye for good. Pitino clearly wanted Wells, as was reported, and wanted to work something out. In the end, it just could not be done, and it leaves one to wonder whether Pitino began to have significant second thoughts about taking a flyer on Mathiang late in the game rather than keep the scholarship open.
To make matters more frustrating for Cards fans, Wells is now on Kentucky’s campus, another team with national championship aspirations that could use him. This is, of course, no coincidence. UK coach John Calipari’s life goal seems to be to try and one-up Rick Pitino every chance he gets. You want to coach Puerto Rico? Fine, I’ll coach the Dominican Republic. You want Chane Behanan? I want Chane Behanan. You offer a walk-on spot to Elisha Justice? I’ll offer a scholarship. You want Ryan Harrow? I want Ryan Harrow. We’re the only team in the state! You can add center Tony Woods to that list as well, as the Cats allegedly had interest in him once he decided not to attend Louisville. Calipari’s borderline unhealthy obsession with the Louisville coach may just reward him a great player in Dez Wells now. If he ends up at UK, which at this points, seems very possible, even likely, Rick Pitino is going to be judged by much of the Louisville fanbase.
When it all comes down to it, Pitino traded a chance to have Dez Wells for the chance to have Mangok Mathiang. Wells is a proven player with big-time potential that plays a position the Cards could use help at. Mathiang is a complete mystery who plays a position the Cards are so deep at, the big man will likely redshirt the upcoming season. Wells would, however, need a waiver to play right away for whatever school he chooses to attend. With everything he has gone through, though, a hardship waiver should not be overly difficult to obtain, but who knows with the NCAA. Jeff Goodman of CBS says he is hearing it is unlikely. Should he play next year, however, whether it is for UK, Texas, or Maryland (but especially if it is UK), and plays at a high level, fans of Louisville will no doubt think about what might have been. If Louisville falls short of the national championship, redshirts Mathiang, and Wells has an outstanding season proving how much he could have helped the Cards, the fans will most certainly voice their opinion on the matter. If two or three years down the road, Wells turns into a big-time player and/or NBA prospect and Mathiang struggles, Pitino will certainly feel the heat. Is that fair? Maybe not, but that is the way high major college basketball world works. It is an oven society. For now, after all he accomplished and all that is expected going into this season, Pitino deserves a little slack. These things happen. He had better hope Mangok is the real deal, though.