Off-the-court issues still looming over his program, Coach Rick Pitino is in the process of building what could be his best recruiting class in his 16-plus years at the University of Louisville.
The Cardinals already have two highly touted players on board for the class of 2018, and a few others are seriously considering U of L for next season.
So far, Louisville has commitments from Anfernee Simons and Courtney Ramey, both guards ranked among the top 50 prospects in the country. Ramey — a 6-foot-3 point guard from St. Louis — is a great addition, ranked No. 36 overall in the 247Sports composite rankings, but this summer has belonged to Simons.
Often, when a top high school basketball player picks a college early in the process, he fades to the background of the recruiting landscape, ceding the spotlight to the undecided stars in his class.
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Simons, who committed to U of L last November, has made recruiting analysts take notice over the past few months.
The 6-foot-4 combo guard from IMG Academy (Fla.) averaged 20.4 points and 5.5 rebounds — making more than 42 percent of his three-point shots — on the Under Armour circuit and dazzled in various camp settings.
247Sports national analyst Jerry Meyer was so impressed that he moved him up to No. 6 overall in that website’s 2018 rankings. Meyer told the Herald-Leader that Simons reminds him of this year’s No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
“He makes me think of Markelle Fultz when I watch him play,” He said. “Just his style of play, his body, the way he scores, it’s very similar to having watched Markelle. He has great, light, quick feet. If you watch him play … when he breaks down a defender, his feet are always moving at a much higher tempo than typical players. So the ratio to the dribble is unique. It’s sort of technical, but it’s such an extraordinary thing.
“He plays very light on his feet, so he has great explosiveness and change of pace. He can slow the ball down and then have that great burst off a hesitation move. But he can score all of the different ways. He has great touch scoring on the move, and that’s kind of a Markelle trait.”
Fultz was one of the top recruits in the 2016 class, signed with Washington and averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game for the Huskies before being selected with the top pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
That’s high praise for Simons, and other recruiting analysts are starting to see more in him, too. ESPN recently moved Simons to No. 8 in its rankings. Scout.com has him at No. 14, and Rivals.com national analyst Eric Bossi recently wrote that he’ll get a bump to five-star status on that site’s next rankings update.
According to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index website, Pitino has recruited only one top-15 player to Louisville since taking the job in 2001. That was Samardo Samuels, the No. 4 recruit in the 2008 class.
Simons, who will sign with the Cards in November, is likely to join that list, and he’s still on the way up.
“I think he has legit point guard skills to go along with that scoring,” Meyer added. “He plays to win, and I think his body is still very much maturing.”
Best class ever?
According to the RSCI rankings, Rick Pitino’s 2006 signing class was his most talented at Louisville. That group included No. 17 recruit Derrick Caracter, No. 24 recruit Earl Clark and fellow Top 100 prospects Jerry Smith and Edgar Sosa, and it was the nation’s No. 6 class that year.
Pitino’s highest-placed class in the final RSCI team rankings was the 2011 group, which finished fifth and featured McDonald’s All-Americans Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear (though its RSCI point total was not as high as the 2006 class).
Louisville’s 2018 class has the potential to surpass both of those groups.
The Cards already have Top 50 recruits Anfernee Simons and Courtney Ramey, as mentioned above, and they’re seen as serious threats for five-star targets Romeo Langford and Moses Brown, as well as Top 100 player Darius Days.
Langford — a 6-5 shooting guard from Indiana — is ranked by every major recruiting service as the No. 5 overall player in the 2018 class. Louisville is the favorite on his 247Sports Crystal Ball page.
Brown — a 7-footer from New York — is the No. 10 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings. Maryland is the favorite on his Crystal Ball page, but 247Sports national analyst Andrew Slater is predicting the Cardinals, and fellow analyst Jerry Meyer said Brown that committing to one of those two schools seems to be the most likely result, throwing in Kansas as a possible third contender.
Days — a 6-7 forward from Florida — narrowed his list Sunday to Louisville, Louisiana State, North Carolina, Ohio State and Xavier. He’s the No. 58 overall player in the 247Sports rankings.
If the Cards can get Brown and Langford, it would mean a program with only one top-15 signee in the past 15 years could land three such recruits in the same class.
Interesting, given the ongoing NCAA cloud over U of L basketball in recent months.
“It doesn’t seem like any of the off-the-court stuff has had an effect,” Meyer told the Herald-Leader. “It might have impacted recruiting in that it turned some people away, but it doesn’t look like that’s really mattered. Number wise, it hasn’t had any effect at all. It’s kind of an interesting phenomenon.”
More good news for Cards?
U of L will also be in a unique spot with the recruiting class of 2019.
Two highly touted players from that group are playing their high school basketball in the city of Louisville.
Nigerian center Charles Bassey — the No. 1 player in the Rivals.com rankings for 2019 — has transferred to DeSales and will play for Louisville-based prep basketball team Aspire Academy this season.
David Johnson — a 6-4 point guard — is entering his junior year at Louisville Trinity, and Scout.com ranks him as the No. 29 overall prospect in the class.
Louisville is recruiting both players, and their proximity to campus should only help the Cardinals in those efforts.
▪ Louisville’s 2017 class is only the second under Pitino to feature two Top 25 recruits, according to the RSCI rankings. Small forward Brian Bowen (No. 16) and center Malik Williams (No. 25) will both be freshmen this season. The only other such class in the Pitino era was that 2006 group that featured Derrick Caracter (No. 17) and Earl Clark (No. 24).