The expected removal of Rick Pitino as the men’s basketball coach at the University of Louisville throws the Cardinals’ program into obvious disarray, and it will also surely dismantle what were expected to be major gains over the next two recruiting cycles.
The damage has already begun.
Pitino brought in one of his best recruiting classes ever this year, a group ranked No. 6 nationally in the RSCI composite rankings and one that featured four Top 100 prospects. The highest-ranked player on that list — small forward Brian Bowen — is mentioned (though not specifically named) as a central figure in the federal investigation into corruption in college basketball that led to Pitino’s ouster.
Bowen became U of L’s highest-ranked recruit in nine years when he committed in June.
Shortly after interim president Greg Postel’s press conference Wednesday announcing that Pitino and athletics director Tom Jurich had been suspended, the university released a statement that included a portion explaining Bowen’s status with the Cardinals.
“That player has been notified that he has been removed from team activities,” the statement said.
Pitino was in line for perhaps his best recruiting haul ever at Louisville with the 2018 class, which already included commitments from top-10 national prospect Anfernee Simons and four-star guard Courtney Ramey, who is ranked as the No. 37 overall player in the senior class, according to the RSCI rankings.
Simons, who would’ve been Pitino’s second-highest ranked recruit ever, announced less than an hour after Postel’s press conference that he was no longer committed to the Cardinals.
“Due to the recent events that have taken place, my family and I have decided that it’s in my best interest to de-commit from the University of Louisville,” Simons said. “I will be reopening my recruitment. This was a very tough decision to make and I am deeply saddened by this. I appreciate all of the support from the Louisville fans.”
Later in the day, Ramey’s father released a statement confirming that his son had also decommitted from Louisville.
“In lieu of recent developments and after an in-depth conversation with me and our family, my son, Courtney Ramey has decided to reopen his collegiate recruitment,” Terrell Ramey said.
Neither recruit had signed with the Cardinals yet. Players from the 2018 class are not eligible to sign with a school until November.
Louisville was also considered a favorite for five-star shooting guard Romeo Langford, who resides directly across the Ohio River in New Albany, Ind., and told the Herald-Leader and other media outlets this summer that he considers U of L to be the “hometown school” in his recruitment.
Langford’s father told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday night that his son is no longer considering Louisville.
Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel tweeted Tuesday that he had been “talking to college coaches all day” and several believed that Langford’s final two schools would be Kansas and Indiana, with coaches telling him that a Langford commitment to the Jayhawks was “almost done.”
Langford — the No. 5 overall player in the class — often spoken highly of Pitino despite the program’s recent scandal involving strippers. He told the Herald-Leader in June that NCAA penalties levied against the Cardinals this summer would not have any impact on his recruitment.
“I didn’t think too much about it,” he said then. “I mean, everybody knew they were going to get in trouble, so it wasn’t really that big of a shocker. It didn’t change the way that I feel about them.”
The Cardinals were also thought to be a contender for Moses Brown, another five-star recruit and one of the top post players in the 2018 class. Brown, too, has often praised Pitino, and his departure will have a major impact on the recruitment. Maryland has been viewed as the other favorite for Brown, and the Terrapins now hold an 89 percent advantage on the player’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page.
A few weeks ago, a Louisville recruiting class featuring three five-star players and one more in the top 50 seemed plausible. Now, the Cards seem like extreme long shots to end up with any of those four prospects.
The bad fortunes are also likely to extend beyond the 2018 class.
U of L has one commitment for the class of 2019: Louisville Trinity guard David Johnson, a top-50 national player who committed to the Cards this month.
Louisville was also considered a favorite for top-10 prospect Balsa Koprivica, a Serbian center now living in Florida who played on the Adidas circuit this summer.
Koprivica’s AAU team director, Brad Augustine, was one of the 10 men arrested as a result the federal investigation this week.
Portions of the federal documents released Tuesday detail a meeting in a Las Vegas hotel room in late July — corresponding with the date and location of the Adidas Summer Championships — that was attended by Augustine, sports agent Christian Dawkins, who has been arrested in the corruption case, a cooperating federal witness, an undercover FBI agent and a Louisville assistant coach.
Dawkins “laid out the plan to funnel money” to the family of a high school basketball recruit referred to “Player-11” in the documents. The player is described as being part of Augustine’s AAU program and a class of 2019 recruit.
“The mom is like … ‘We need our (expletive) money’,” Dawkins tells the assembled group, according to the documents.
“The biggest thing is just making sure that every month Brad just gets what he needs,” Dawkins says later, in reference to getting the money to the player’s family.
“All my kids will be (Adidas) kids,” Augustine says.
Not long after the Vegas meeting, Louisville emerged as the clear favorite in Koprivica’s recruitment.