Men's Basketball

Mark Story: Snider, Spalding putting ‘The Ville’ back in Louisville basketball

Louisville’s Quentin Snider (2) tried to drive past Western Kentucky’s Chris McNeal during the second half Saturday in Louisville.
Louisville’s Quentin Snider (2) tried to drive past Western Kentucky’s Chris McNeal during the second half Saturday in Louisville. Associated Press

When KFC Yum Center public address announcer Sean Moth does the starting lineups before Louisville games, players actually from the Derby City get a unique, hometown introduction.

“At guard, from The Ville …”

Before No. 18 Louisville faced Western Kentucky, two homegrown U of L starters — sophomore point guard Quentin Snider (Ballard) and freshman power forward Ray Spalding (Trinity) — each got that intro for the third time together this season.

It is the first time two products of Jefferson County have started multiple games in a season for Louisville since DeJuan Wheat (Ballard) and Jason Osborne (Male) did it 21 seasons ago.

“It’s very special,” Snider said. “When they call our names and they say we are from ‘The Ville,’ that’s a very special thing for us — two guys starting.”

With Snider leading a balanced U of L attack with 16 points, No. 18 Louisville (9-1) whipped Western Kentucky (6-5) 78-56 Saturday before a noon-tipoff crowd of 21,606.

It appears to have been an expensive victory for the Cardinals. Coach Rick Pitino announced after the game that redshirt junior big man Mangok Mathiang is out six to eight weeks after breaking a bone in his foot.

With the annual intrastate Armageddon against Kentucky now only days away, Pitino said the loss of Mathiang (7.6 points, 5.8 rebounds) goes beyond statistics. Pitino said the 6-foot-10 center is the best Cardinal at on-court communication.

“That is the biggest problem we will have,” Pitino said. “Not with the physical part — but with talking and knowing the schemes.”

Just as University of Kentucky basketball is a richer experience when home-state players play a significant role, so too is U of L hoops when players from the city figure prominently.

Back when Denny Crum regularly booked Final Four trips, Jefferson County products — think Phil Bond, Wesley Cox, Darrell Griffith, Bobby Turner, Jerry Eaves, Herbert Crook — were cornerstone players.

Even after the Final Fours ceased for Crum and U of L after 1986, there were still high-level homegrown players — Felton Spencer, Dwayne Morton, Osborne and Wheat, just to name a few.

In the 21st Century, the same mysterious dearth of homegrown talent that has afflicted the “out in the state” parts of Kentucky has also applied to our state’s largest city.

U of L has not had a double-figure scorer from Jefferson County since ex-Male star Larry O’Bannon averaged 15.2 points and 3.5 rebounds for Pitino’s 2004-05 Final Four team.

To add to the frustration of Louisville backers, the two most talented players from Jefferson County in the 2000s — NBA guards Rajon Rondo (Kentucky) and D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State) — played college hoops someplace other than their hometown.

All of that is why Snider and Spalding have a chance to be special to Cardinals fans.

At 6-foot-10, 210 pounds, Spalding (six points, three rebounds vs WKU) oozes potential. Against Western, he provided two plays that show what he could become.

Midway through the second half, he sprinted downcourt and became the front edge of a Cardinals fast break. Once there, Spalding caught in stride a Damion Lee bullet pass that would have challenged Larry Fitzgerald.

Spalding then missed a contested layup — he needs to get stronger. Still, the athleticism he showed running the court and catching the ball were eye-catching.

About three minutes prior, Spalding had blocked a dunk attempt by 7-1 WKU center Ben Lawson.

Said Snider: “That block was just amazing.”

The adjectives that tend to apply to Snider’s game are cool and composed.

A late-season starter last year after Chris Jones was booted off the team, Snider has lost body fat (down from 13 percent to 7.2, he reports) and added confidence in his sophomore campaign.

“Over the summer, my main two focuses were my shooting and my lateral quickness,” he said.

This year, the 6-2 guard is trying to get a little more arc underneath what has long been a flat jump shot. As the competition gets tougher, his ability to stay in front of quicker point guards on defense will be challenged.

After his 16 points, four assists and two turnovers against WKU, Snider is averaging 10.4 points and has an almost 4-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (47/12).

Said Pitino: “I like the way Q’s playing.”

Just as Cardinals fans like hearing the starting lineup announced with …

“… from The Ville …”

Next games

Missouri-Kansas City at Louisville: 9 p.m. Tuesday

Detroit at Western Kentucky: 8 p.m. Tuesday (Fox College Sports)

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