University of Louisville

Louisville basketball recruiting takes another hit, and it’ll be a long road to recovery

Rick Pitino, right, and David Padgett coach from the Louisville bench during a game last season.
Rick Pitino, right, and David Padgett coach from the Louisville bench during a game last season. AP

The decision by Louisville Trinity junior guard David Johnson to step away from his commitment to the U of L basketball program Wednesday marked the final blow to the Cardinals’ once-promising recruiting prospects.

Johnson’s decommitment from Louisville took a bit longer than seniors Anfernee Simons and Courtney Ramey, who both announced their decisions within an hour of Rick Pitino’s ouster last week.

Scout.com first reported Johnson’s defection.

“I’ve decided that I’ll be reopening my recruitment,” he told the recruiting website.

And, with that, the Cardinals’ commitment list sits at zero.

That’s unlikely to change any time soon.

It’s quite the reversal of fortunes for Louisville, which brought in one of its best recruiting classes ever earlier this year and appeared set to perhaps sign an even better group of prospects in 2018.

Simons and Ramey — both top-40 recruits — are now gone.

Romeo Langford, the No. 5 player in the class, is no longer considering Louisville, his father told the Herald-Leader and others last week. The Cards were once considered the favorites to land his commitment.

Another five-star senior — New York center Moses Brown — is also apparently done with Louisville. His father told ZagsBlog last week that Maryland is now the No. 1 option in Brown’s recruitment. Before that, it appeared to be a two-school race between Maryland and U of L.

Johnson, as a local recruit, was seen as a player who might stay committed to the Cards through the uncertainty that now surrounds the program in the wake of the federal investigation into corruption in college basketball.

Now he, too, is gone.

(Johnson is the No. 33 recruit nationally in the 2019 class).

The current situation at Louisville will make it very difficult to replace these recruits with players anywhere close to their talent level.

Former U of L assistant coach David Padgett has been named the acting head coach, but he’s currently signed to lead the program through only this season. As of Wednesday morning, he has no established assistant coaches.

That level of uncertainty — along with, of course, the uncertainty that comes with the continued federal investigation and probable NCAA sanctions — means Louisville is unlikely to get any nationally ranked players in the 2018 cycle.

And they’ll need some replacements.

The Cards’ current roster includes two seniors (Quentin Snider and Anas Mahmoud), two juniors who could go to the NBA after this season (Ray Spalding and Deng Adel) and a high-profile freshman who might never play a game of college basketball (Brian Bowen).

If other players are given blanket waivers to transfer and play immediately, the Cardinals’ lineup could be depleted after the 2017-18 season.

That uncertainty will also carry over into the 2019 recruiting cycle and beyond, even after Louisville names its permanent head coach.

If the Cards want someone who’s currently coaching at another college program, they’ll likely have to wait until at least April to hire him. By that point, some of the top prospects in the 2019 class will have already made their college decisions and many others will have already cut their recruiting lists to a manageable number.

Kentucky, for instance, has already extended scholarship offers to six players from the 2019 class — the Cats are seriously recruiting several others — and UK’s coaches will spend the next few months evaluating those players, hosting them for campus visits and building relationships, even as they finish out their 2018 class.

Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and all of the other top schools not implicated in the corruption probe will be in the same position over the next few months.

That means the new Louisville coaches will be in severe catch-up mode next spring, and they’ll also have to recruit against whatever punishment the NCAA ultimately sends their way: reduced number of scholarships, reduced time on the recruiting trail, postseason bans, etc.

Recruiting might not be the biggest of worries for the U of L basketball program at the moment, but these defections will be noticeable on the court in the very-near future, and finding talent capable of competing against the Kentuckys and Dukes and North Carolinas of the college basketball world won’t be easy any time soon.

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