Louisville coach Rick Pitino has repeatedly stated throughout the season that while he thinks highly of his freshman class, they are not physically ready to compete in the ACC, so it may have come as a surprise to some when news broke last night he extended a scholarship offer to largely unknown and undersized guard Ryan McMahon.
McMahon a 5-11, 165-lb. combo guard, did not hesitate and committed to the Cards Friday afternoon. He is regarded as a lethal outside shooter with good handles and decent athleticism. Prior to Louisville’s offer, it appeared he was more than likely headed to a school outside of Division 1, but he recently drew interest from the Cards thanks in large part to ESPN analyst Dick Vitale.
Vitale, who lives in the same area of Florida as McMahon, has been pumping the Cardinal Mooney star to anyone who will listen. The Courier-Journal’s Jeff Greer reported via Twitter that prior to the UNC game, Vitale went out of his way to walk over to press row and talk McMahon up, saying the player could “flat-out shoot the ball.”
One of those who listened to Vitale happened to be Pitino. The coach saw him first hand late last month and invited him in for an official visit for the UNC game. They did not offer at the time, but after two Louisville assistants witnessed him score 32 points in a game Thursday night, he apparently felt he had all the info he needed, and he pulled the trigger on an offer.
Vitale has compared McMahon’s game to former Cleveland Cavalier’s sharpshooter Mark Price. ESPN’s national recruiting analyst Paul Biancardi likened his game to high-scoring Vanderbilt freshman Riley LaChance.
So the question now becomes, if this is a player worthy of a Louisville offer, how come no one outside of Dick Vitale had heard of him?
Russ Wood, a Florida recruiting reporter with Rivals.com, said of McMahon in a post on the Louisville Rivals site, “I love McMahon’s competitive fire and his shooting…Good shooter with a quick release, but I don’t know that he could get his shot off against ACC level defenders. Louisville is his only D1 offer, the rest are D2. He plays at a 3A school — Florida goes up to 8A.”
The fan reaction based on social media comments and message board posts has been mixed, at best. Louisville is a program in the business of competing for national championships, so when fans see other schools roping in 5-star prospects and McDonald’s All-Americans, it tends to raise an eyebrow or two when a player who did not even have a recruiting profile on three of four national recruiting sites was offered a chance to play for the Cards.
This would be the second straight year Pitino pulled a recruiting rabbit out of his hat by signing a virtually unheard of player. This season, it was 7-2 Norwegian Matz Stockman, who has scarcely left the bench, and this upcoming season, it could be McMahon.
McMahon would not be the first unheralded guard to sign with Pitino, though. The coach took flyers on four other guards with similar recruiting profiles in Preston Knowles, Kyle Kuric, Russ Smith, and Mike Marra. Three of those four players were either good or excellent players for Louisville, so when the coach has had a 75% success rate, it is tough to argue his eye for guard talent.
Yet, questions will continue to arise, especially when factoring in that this season’s freshman class has barely made an impact. Louisville is in need of immediate impact players and are especially in need of immediate impact guards. The Cards lose both Chris Jones and (in all likelihood) Terry Rozier next season, so with only Quentin Snider returning at the point guard position, is it really in Louisville’s best interest to take a chance on a player who has flown completely under the national radar? Pitino appears to think so.
There is no doubt Pitino has had some recruiting misses in recent years. Since 2011, five players have either transferred out of the program after being bad fits or were dismissed from the team. Yet, the man is determined to not let others dictate who he recruits. Names like Stockman and Mangok Mathiang appearing on the roster shows he clearly values his own two eyes over the opinions of the scouting services.
Like Stockman and his fellow freshmen classmates Jaylen Johnson and Anas Mahmoud, Pitino perhaps views McMahon as a long-term investment. Maybe he is not ready to contribute as a freshman, but as a sophomore or junior, he could prove to be a steal.
The three players Pitino did sign are ready to make an immediate impact, and he still may add a fifth-year transfer or two, so time may be on McMahon’s side.
Whatever the case may be, he is another example of Pitino valuing his own evaluation over that of a recruiting service. He has landed hidden gems in the past, and with this offer, he is showing he is perfectly willing to gamble on his success rate in that area.