The University of Louisville basketball team participated in a NCAA permitted two-hour summer practice on Wednesday, and as reported by Eric Crawford of WDRB, Coach Rick Pitino likes what he sees. The usual suspects like Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, and Gorgui Dieng were said to have looked great and received praise from Pitino. The coach also went on to commend the improvement of young players Kevin Ware, Wayne Blackshear, and Angel Nunez, among others. Pitino is clearly excited about what this team can do, and one player he said really helps the Cards out is freshman power forward/center Montrezl Harrell.
A top-75 player coming out of high school, Harrell is regarded for his passionate style of play, his toughness in the paint, and his all-out effort every minute he is on the court. Watching his highlight videos on YouTube is enough to make one feel incredibly sorry for anyone battling him for a rebound or trying to prevent him from scoring in the paint. He plays as if the paint is his territory, and anyone who is trespassing on his territory is going to pay severe consequences. He is the exact type of player Cards fans will love to cheer for and the exact type of player Pitino loves to coach. Yet, while fans should definitely be excited, they should also temper any kind of lofty expectations. For while Harrell is a fierce competitor always in beast-mode, he is also still extremely raw. What is also apparent in his highlight videos along with his strengths is that he is still a work-in-progress when it comes to post moves, especially with plays facing away from the basket. He will be a valuable asset this season, but it is unfair at this point to expect him to be a superstar right away. What fans should really be excited about, as Pitino says, is how much better he is making those around him. Here is what the coach had to say about him:
“A lot of players don’t realize this when they are picking a school, but the best scenario for your improvement – not your pro future or your 38 minutes a game or whatever – but your improvement – the best thing that can happen to you is to go up against a great player every day.
“You play 30 games in a season, and you practice over 300 times. So you improve significantly more in practice. So for a guy like Chane Behanan and a guy like Gorgui Dieng, having Montrezl Harrell here is a God-send because they can’t take a play off now or they will be embarrassed – and vice versa.”
Pitino also mentioned that Behanan is already reaping the benefits of having to go against Harrell in practice:
“Chane, yesterday, had his best practice of the summer because he has known from pick-up basketball that if he doesn’t bring it that Montrezl will embarrass him,” Pitino said. “Chane and Gorgui and Montrezl will all get significantly better because of the competition on a daily basis.”
Rick Pitino knows what he is doing, folks. By having intense competition between teammates during practice, the team will only become better during games. Harrell is arguably a much more important recruit than Terry Rozier, for Peyton Siva and Russ Smith will push each other and become better and better, but Behanan did not really have the same type of competition, and he certainly did not last year with Rakeem Buckles and Stephan Van Treese both being injured. Now that he has Harrell pushing him every day and breathing down his neck, he will become better and better each practice. That is a scary thought.
Every position on the court will feature intense battles between players. No player will have it easy and everyone will be pushed by his counterpart. As a result, what should be a very good team could become not just a great team, not just a Final Four-level team, but a championship-level team.