With the season complete, what's next for the Louisville basketball program; Cardinals finished self-imposed ban season at 23-8

The season is complete for the University of Louisville basketball team. The Cardinals finished 23-8 but won't participate in the postseason because of a self-imposed ban. So, what's next for the Cardinals after the season-ending loss at Virginia?

The University of Louisville's basketball season hadn't been over for more than a half an hour on Saturday night.

Fifth-year senior Damion Lee was in the corner of a locker room in John Paul Jones Arena after U of L's loss to Virginia when sports information director Kenny Klein gave the last call for questions from the media.

Lee answered the final question and then went on, "I don't really want this to end," he quipped.

But soon it ended and Lee was the last player out of the locker room, following freshman Donovan Mitchell and giving him some words of encouragement as a leader of the Cardinals' team.

"Get ready to play 30 minutes," Lee laughed.

Mitchell smiled back and walked out of the locker room and like that the season was over and the focus gone from a remarkable 23-8 season to the future of the Louisville basketball program.

"It's tough for it to end like this," Mitchell said. "But we learned a lot this season from (Damion Lee and Trey Lewis) and we look forward to using what we learned from them in the future."

Louisville's season ended with a self-imposed ban as the NCAA still investigates the alleged sex scandal that has rocked the program since October. Louisville finished fourth in the ACC and would have had a double-bye in this week's ACC Tournament.

The Cardinals were likely in line for a 3, 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"It's hard to believe this season is over," sophomore Quentin Snider said. "But I'm already excited to get back to work. We have a lot of work to do and I think we'll all start pretty fast, getting back to what we need to do on the court.

"I think we're all looking forward to it."

There's plenty to look forward to for the Cardinals.

The first hurdle to clear for the future is the status of Rick Pitino. The Hall of Famer is in Florida for a little "rest and relaxation" and isn't expected back in town until next month. But he's already hired David Padgett as a new assistant coach - replacing Ralph Willard - and Pitino certainly isn't acting like a coach who isn't going to be back next season.

On Monday, Pitino recruited in Miami and he's made several other recruiting calls since the Virginia loss.

"He's not recruiting for anywhere else other than Louisville," a source told Cardinal Authority.

As far as the team returning, the Cardinals have a ton coming back. Sophomore center Chinanu Onuaku will test the NBA waters and go through the NBA combine before making a decision on his return.

"I think I can be a first rounder," Onuaku said. "I know what I can do. I just want to see what it's like."

Onuaku said he "feels like I need" to at least give the combine a look and Pitino agrees, noting "I want him to at least go to the combine and realize that Louisville isn't the only place where you have to work hard."

With or without Onuaku, the Cardinals are loaded with talent.

Mangok Mathiang is expected to return as a redshirt senior and noted he's been working out for two weeks and believes that "I will be ready to get back to work fully here soon. I can't wait to see what we can do as a team."

The only other senior on the roster will be Tony Hicks, who is expected to be a fifth-year graduate transfer for the Cardinals. He sat out this season at Pennsylvania and is expected to enroll at U of L in June.

Quentin Snider will be a junior and is expected to run the show at the point guard spot, while Mitchell is also expected to be a starter next season. David Levitch and current redshirt Ryan McMahon could both be in the mix for playing time.

Freshman Ray Spalding was impressive in his first season but Pitino said he needs to add some weight and strength before next season, while sophomores Jaylen Johnson, Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman should all show improvement.

Deng Adel is another freshman who showed promise as a freshman and should make a huge jump.

V.J. King is a McDonald's All-American who will play a ton of minutes next season, while Frankie Hughes has also signed and should provide some added depth to the backcourt.

"We can be very good next year," Adel said in a recent interview. "But we have to keep working and keep on the same path."

Added Pitino after the Virginia game: "With all these young guys, you have to hope to be Virginia someday, a well-oiled machine like they are. They have guys who have played together and know how to cover for each other. We have guys who give great effort, but they're not a synchronized machine yet. The good thing is that everybody got a lot of experience for us this year."

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