Bahamas trip good preparation for Cardinals

Louisville will play one of the toughest schedules in college basketball this season, and Rick Pitino believes his team's trip to the Bahamas will help them prepare.

Louisville will play one of the toughest schedules in college basketball this season – one that could feature as many as 13 Top 20 teams, plus a half dozen foes ranked in the Top 10, according to Rick Pitino.

Besides a grueling Big East slate that includes two games against UConn, the defending NCAA Champs and Syracuse, Louisville will play early season non-conference games against Kentucky, a strong No. 2 choice behind North Carolina in preseason polls, Butler, the two-time NCAA runner-up, plus Vanderbilt and Memphis, both expected to have Top 10-caliber teams.

"That's why this trip is so good for us," Pitino said of Louisville's upcoming exhibition tour to the Bahamas. "We're going to have to be ready very early on in the season. We hope to be."

Pitino wants to see a more assertive Gorgui Dieng on defense in the Bahamas..
Pitino's Cardinals will play four games in the Bahamas next week – two against professional teams, plus two Red-White intra-squad scrimmages. Though his team will surely benefit from facing outside competition, Pitino believes the biggest benefit for his team is the extra practice time they've had to get ready for the trip.

"The practices are much more beneficial than the games because you can tell more from practice," said Pitino. "The two Red-White games will be very good for us. It's going to help Chane Behanan. It's going to help Zach Price. It will help tell us if Angel Nunez can play a little bit this year."

While the trip to the Bahamas will help those three freshmen, Pitino laments that he won't have freshmen guards Wayne Blackshear, Louisville's highest-rated incoming recruit, and Kevin Ware, a Top 100 guard who was a late spring addition to the Cardinals Top 10 recruiting class.

"The one thing that we're missing is….Blackshear and Ware are very good athletes and they're very long athletes," Pitino said. "They have unusual wing spans for their size. So when you have Gorgui, Wayne, Kevin and Angel with their wing span getting after people (it's formidable). I wish we had them together but we don't. But we'll get there."

Pitino believes Louisville's Caribbean excursion will be particularly beneficial for freshman power forward Chane Behanan, a McDonald's All-American who will play major minutes this season.

"I'll use Chane as an example," Pitino said. "Chane is going to play a lot of minutes and it's going to be great for him."

"Chane reminds me of Rodney McCray or Ryan Gomes, who played at Providence. He has tremendous potential but he's not fundamentally sound. What he has to learn is the fundamentals – he doesn't understand stance or defensive positioning or how to be a great scorer. He floats too much on the perimeter, that's why he wasn't a great scorer in high school. He's got to learn how great players score. But in terms of getting it and being physically ready right now and understanding the game – he's got it. He has a natural gift for the game of basketball."

Behanan, a powerfully built forward, will be in the starting lineup in the Bahamas. He'll likely by joined by Peyton Siva, Chris Smith, Kyle Kuric and Gorgui Dieng. "But I don't know if that will be the starting lineup once the season starts," Pitino said.

Pitino hopes to see more aggression on defense from Dieng, a 6-foot-10 sophomore who has bulked up to 235-pound or so this summer, in the Bahamas. Dieng, who has a 7'3 wingspan, was third in the Big East in blocks last season, but Pitino believes he has the ability to rank as one of the Top 3 shot blockers in the country.

"Gorgui does three things very well," Pitino said. "He's scores, he passes and he offensive rebounds. He has a knack for going up and tipping the ball out to a teammate. Where he's got to get better and the challenge I put forth to him is shot blocking. He allows too many people to come down the lane. He's got to learn to defensive rebound and block shots. He plays with his hands down."

Blackshear and Ware won't be the only players that won't play on the upcoming Bahamas trip. Forwards Rakeem Buckles, who is recovering from knee surgery, and Jared Swopshire, who missed last season with a groin injury, also won't be available. Pitino said Wednesday that his team, by October, should have everyone back.

Bahamas Notebook

- Pitino updated the status of forward Jared Swopshire, indicating he should be back on the court in September. "He went to Philadelphia again because he wasn't progressing as hoped and they did minor surgery," Pitino said. "There was a lot of scar tissue and they did the surgery to (remove) the scar tissue. Swop will definitely come back before (Buckles)."

- There had been talk earlier this summer that Rakeem Buckles might redshirt this season because of a knee injury, but Pitino seemed to rule that out. "He'll definitely be able to play," Pitino said.

- Freshman center Zach Price sustained a concussion, oddly enough, running into a door frame. He attempted to go through practice afterward, but had to make a visit to the hospital because of the head injury. "He should be ready for the Bahamas, but he had a pretty nasty (concussion)," Pitino said.

- Rick Pitino publicly discussed retirement after last season, but said he's now planning to finish out his current contract at UofL, which runs out after the 2017 season. "After reflecting on it, I'm going to stay until this contract ends and see it through," Pitino said. "I want to win a championship. It's a big goal of ours. In order to do that you have to have the attitude we have now along with very good talent. You're not going to win a championship without that."

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