How deep will the Cardinals be next season? Seniors Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith, key members of Louisville's 25-win team last season, have given up their scholarships next season to make way for a five-man, Top 5-ranked recruiting class.
A year after injuries took a major toll on Louisville's roster, Pitino shouldn't have to deal with depth problems next season with 13 scholarship players and three walk-on's – Smith, Kuric and sophomore point guard Elijah Justice.
"Having 28 guys will really help us," joked Pitino. "It will be tremendous for us."
It's clear Pitino has big expectations for his team. Besides Kuric, Smith and Justice, Louisville returns starting point guard Peyton Siva, sophomore center Gorgui Dieng, and starting forwards Rakeem Buckles and Jared Swopshire. Pitino also is excited about the additions of McDonalds All-Americans Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear, plus newcomers Angel Nunez, Zach Price and Kevin Ware.
"We expect to be a strong basketball team experience-wise," Pitino said. "We made our schedule to fit the type of team we're going to have. We did that with T-Will and Earl and we hope to be in that class. Non-conference we'll probably play three or four teams in the top ten. From all early indications, Vanderbilt, Memphis and Kentucky will all be in the top ten."
In addition to early season tests against Memphis, Kentucky and Vanderbilt (Big East/SEC Challenge), Louisville also will travel to defending NCAA runner-up Butler.
"It's not the talent [on the team] I'm excited about it's the Louisville-first attitude," said Pitino. "That's our brand. We're asking them to put the name on the front of the jersey before the name on the back of the jersey. That's what they're doing."
Still, there are questions facing Pitino's team this summer, namely the health of power forwards Buckles and Swopshire. Though it's unclear whether either player will be 100 percent next season, Pitino can take comfort that Chane Behanan is expected to make an immediate impact at the position.
"We're coming off a lot of injuries right now," Pitino said. "We have an ACL with [Rakeem Buckles] and an unknown groin injury with Swopshire. Maybe one of the two could be redshirted. It's something we will consider depending on how they come back. We do have a young man who is very healthy in Chane Behanan who is going to be an impact freshman for us."
Buckles and Swopshire are expected to return later this summer.
"You don't know how he's [Swopshire] going to come back, but he is progressing extremely well," said Pitino. "He's out on the court going through drills and shooting [now]. Rock's coming off an ACL. If one of them doesn't come back 100 percent we would consider redshirting them if they could come back 100 percent."
Pitino is hopeful that Buckles, who tore his ACL late in the season against Pittsburgh, will be back on the court in mid-August.
"I'm hoping he can play in the Bahamas," Pitino said. "Although [trainer] Fred [Hina] doesn't think so, I'm hopeful."
With an impressive roster returning, and a talented recruiting class incoming, Pitino said that 6'10 Gorgui Dieng's development this summer is the critical for Louisville's chances next season.
"The most important guy is Gorgui Dieng," Pitino said. "Gorgui has so much potential and so much growth ahead of him. He's basically weak and a little soft. What we're trying to do is get him strong and tough because he has great skill."
Dieng, who will start at center next season, showed tremendous potential as a freshman splitting time with Terrence Jennings, who gave up his senior season to declare himself eligible for the NBA Draft.
"I was disappointed in his weight and he told me he came to this country at 170 pounds," Pitino said. "We've got him at 235 and we want him to start the season at 245 and I think you'll see a different person. Last year he was 217. He has great potential. I would not be surprised to see him lead the country in blocked shots because he has terrific timing and length. He lacks toughness and strength and that's what we want to build into him. Not that he's a soft kid, the reason he's soft is he's not strong."
Pitino traditionally names his seniors as team captains early in the summer, but won't do that until after August practices for the Cardinals trip to the Caribbean.
"I think I'll let the team vote," Pitino said. "I always like to pick seniors but Peyton maybe the exception to the rule and I'll let the guys decide that."