Damion Lee of the Louisville Cardinals celebrating a seven point victory over #20 Duke Blue Devils on February 20th, 2016. The Louisville Cardinals won 71-64 in the KFC Yum! Center. (Image from ESPN.com)
Damion Lee (G) 6’6” Senior:
Damion Lee’s entire college basketball career was an up and down roller coaster. From Drexel University, in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), to the University of Louisville, all Lee wanted was to make the NCAA tournament. Lee was named to the CAA All-First Team and was named Rookie of the Year in the conference during his freshman season at Drexel. Drexel had lost to VCU in the CAA championship, but still was considered to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid. Lee’s promising career at Drexel was downhill from here. His numbers declined his sophomore season and his woes continued during his redshirt junior season where he suffered a fractured hand. After the 2014-2015 season, Lee announced he will be transferring to the University of Louisville for his 5th and final season of his collegiate career.
This past year at Louisville, Damion Lee was looked upon as one of the two leaders of this team and had high hopes of achieving his only goal, making the NCAA tournament for the first time. On February 6th, 2016, a few days after a 71-65 home win over #2 North Carolina, the University of Louisville had announced a self-imposed postseason ban for the 2015-2016 men’s basketball season. For an 18-4 Cardinals team, this news was heartbreaking and ended any thought of a run at the NCAA Championship. The Cards finished their final 9 games 5-4 and ended the season in tears. Damion Lee ended the season averaging 15.9 PPG and shot over 42% from the floor. In Louisville’s biggest games of the year against ranked opponents, Coach Pitino could count on Lee. He averaged 17.1 PPG in 8 games against ranked foes. He made the ACC All-Second Team and hopes to continue his playing career in the NBA. Damion Lee’s leadership on and off the court is something you cannot teach and exemplifies a true team player. He may not be a star in the NBA, but is a player that will step up in big games and can come off the bench to contribute huge minutes to a championship worthy team.
Trey Lewis (G) 6’2” Senior:
Along with Damion Lee, Trey Lewis was the second leader and captain of the 2015-2016 Louisville Men’s Basketball team. Lewis mainly ran the point guard position this year for Pitino’s cards and transferred to Louisville from Cleveland St. after starting point guard Terry Rozier graduated. Following the 2014-2015 season, Rick Pitino had to make a big move to find a replacement point guard for the upcoming season. After striking out on recruiting a highly ranked guard, Pitino was able to get Trey Lewis to transfer from Cleveland St. to Louisville. Trey’s impact with the Cards this season was highly valued by the coaching staff. Even when he was on the bench, his presence was still felt on the floor by his teammates and opponents. Being a captain, encouraging his team and leading his team to a victory was his only priority, and he did not care about being the superstar on the team. Trey Lewis finished the season as a playmaker for the Cards, averaging 11.3 PPG, played in all 31 games this year for the Cardinals, and shot 35% from the 3-point line. He was also a big defensive player that forced opposing point guards to make quick decisions with the ball, contributing to many of Louisville’s steals and fast-break attempts this year. Trey Lewis, along with his “partner-in-crime” Damion Lee, are the only two players from the basketball team graduating and he will be missed by Louisville next year at the point.
Chinanu Onuaku (C) 6’10” Sophomore:
After averaging 3.0 PPG and 4.6 RPG in the 2014-2015 season, Chinanu Onuaku burst onto the scene for Louisville averaging 9.9 PPG and 8.5 RPG during the 2015-2016 season. He finished the season leading the Cardinals in rebounds (263) & blocks (62) and finished 3rd on the team in points with 307 total points scored. He shot 62% from the floor for the season and gave the Cardinals huge minutes in big games this past year. He scored 18 points and 10 rebounds in a home win vs. #20 Pitt, 12 points and 10 rebounds in a home win vs. #2 UNC, and 10 points and 11 rebounds in a home win vs. #20 Duke. Onuaku finished with 10 total double-doubles with points/rebounds in 10 of Louisville’s 18 ACC games and had 6 double-doubles in their first 6 ACC games. Chinanu Onuaku’s athleticism at his height is something that is hard to match, which lead him to decide to forgo his junior and senior years at Louisville and enter/stay in the upcoming NBA Draft. Onuaku is projected to be a Late-First Round or Early-Second Round Draft pick in this year’s draft. Chinanu’s ability to attack the glass on both the offensive and defensive end of the court is something that has opened up the eyes of NBA scouts. Rebounding is valued in the NBA today and is something that can make Chinanu Onuaku a solid center in the NBA.
Quentin Snider (G) 6’1” Sophomore:
The sharpshooting Snider stepped up during the offseason at Louisville and was in the gym with coaches trying to improve and fix his shot. When comparing his stats from his freshman season to his sophomore season, I think it is safe to say Quentin Snider’s time spent in the gym paid off. After averaging just 4.1 PPG and shooting 28.4% from the 3-point line during the 2014-2015 season, Quentin Snider’s numbers skyrocketed to 9.4 PPG and shot 40.4% from the 3-point line, a 12% increase in one year. Snider mainly played the 2-guard position, or Shooting Guard (SG), and could be found in the corner during a lot of games ready to shoot the 3. He led the Cards in three point shooting percentage and was one of the top free throw shooters on the team. Big things are expected of Quentin next year and he was named co-captain with Mangok Mathiang by Rick Pitino for the 2016-2017 season.
Jaylen Johnson (F) 6’9” Sophomore:
With the departure of Montrezl Harrell, a dominant PF full of energy, Rick Pitino needed somebody to fill the power forward spot next to Chinanu Onuaku. Jaylen Johnson got the nod during the preseason to be the guy to fill Montrezl’s big shoes. No really, Montrezl Harrell wore a size 15 shoe! Jaylen Johnson won the starting job and wasn’t expected to be the star of the show. Pitino wanted to use him as a plug-and-play type player that can build confidence now, that way he can lead the cards down the road. Last year, Johnson averaged 5.0 PPG and 3.5 RPG, shooting 46.4% from the floor. The numbers aren’t eye popping stats, but they are what Rick Pitino was looking for. As Jaylen develops throughout the next few years, it will be interesting to see whether or not he will develop into the player Pitino wants him to become.
Mangok Mathiang (C) 6’10” Junior:
Mangok Mathiang’s 2015-2016 season was short lived. He only played 10 games due to a fractured 5th metatarsal in his foot. Over those ten games, Mathiang was putting up solid numbers averaging 7.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG (Blocks per Game), and shot 56.3% from the floor. Mangok, as a junior, was looked up to as one of the veteran leaders for Louisville and brought a lot of energy to the locker room. He is all about putting the team first and was truly missed this past season. Mangok was named as one of the captains by Rick Pitino for the 2016-2017 season and is expected to be an integral part of next year’s team!
Rick Pitino (Head Coach): Grade: A+
After fifteen years coaching the men’s basketball program at The University of Louisville, Rick Pitino is unsure what is next in his coaching career. Rick Pitino has been an excellent coach throughout his career, putting together a total record of 743-258 (74% win percentage) as a head coach, and is bringing in a 5-star recruit in V.J. King. He also recruited two transfers in guard, Dwayne Sutton (12.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.3 APG) from UNC-Asheville, a 2016 NCAA Tournament Team, and guard, Tony Hicks (2014-2015 stats: 13.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG) from University of Pennsylvania for the upcoming season.
The whole sexual assault scandal that clouds the University of Louisville has tortured the basketball program and brought question marks about one of America’s best basketball programs and coach. During the season, Rick Pitino released a statement saying, “I’ll ask myself after the season if Louisville is a better place with Rick Pitino as coach, and if the answer is yes, I’ll do what I’ve done for 15 years and come back and fight for a championship, and that’s what I plan on doing. But if the time comes that I feel Louisville is better off without me, I’m without ego now.” A lot has been going on at Louisville and nobody can blame Coach Pitino for thinking like this.
One thing we know for sure though is that Louisville does not want to see Rick Pitino leave. This isn’t the end of an era for Louisville, it is a new beginning. It isn’t what Louisville does about the allegations facing them, it is how they overcome adversity and “rebound” from the whole situation. I do believe this is a chance for Louisville to come back stronger than ever in the 2016-2017 season and a chance to prove to everyone once and for all that Louisville will not dwell on their past, but instead use their past to create a new future of championship caliber teams.