Is Palacios the missing piece?

6-foot-8 power forward Tello Palacios might be the final piece in completing a championship puzzle for University of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino.

There's no question about it. This is the biggest and most important recruiting weekend of the year for the University of Louisville and head coach Rick Pitino.

The Cardinals, ranked as high as No. 1 in the RPI this season, have enjoyed a very successful season. They've won 20 games for a second straight season, knocked off two No. 1 ranked opponents, and will head back to the NCAA Tournament next week.

But they've lost some close games down the stretch, most against teams that will also hear their names called on Selection Sunday, mainly because they've lacked a talented frontcourt player who could provide consistent production at both ends of the court.

The answer to that problem will be on campus for an official visit this weekend.

Tello Palacios, a native of Columbia, via Our Savior New America School in Centerreach, New York, is perhaps the top unsigned collegiate prospect available that will play college hoops next season.

Sure Malik Hairston and Randolph Morris are still available, but neither have the combination of size and skills that Palacios does. If you're looking for a comparison, look no further than former Pitino player, Jamal Mashburn.

Like Mashburn, Palacios goes about 6'8, 240. And while he's got the physical size to do some damage around the basket, he's skilled enough to beat you from outside, as well. But what makes him truly special and such a gifted prospect is his ability to both handle and pass the ball like a guard, ala Mashburn. If ever a player were taylor-made for Pitino's system, like Mashburn was, it's Palacios.

And the situation at Louisville appears ready-made for the multi-skilled forward to walk right on campus next fall and instantly become a major factor in what many consider, including ESPN's Dick Vitale, a championship caliber team next season.

Most of the pieces are already in place for such a run. In Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean, Pitino has two talented, and fiercely competitive leaders. The return of seniors Ellis Myles and Otis George should bolster the Cardinals rebounding fortunes. And perimeter players Larry O'Bannon, Brandon Jenkins, and Nate Daniels supply experienced and quality depth. Add a recruiting class that ranks among the nation's best and it's easy to see why many consider Louisville a major player on the national scene.

So where would Palacios fit into the equation? Probably, if you're looking for an honest answer, just about anywhere on the court. He's talented enough to see major minutes at both forward spots, and for a prospect that has legitamate NBA potential and aspirations, there's probably no better situation or coach for Palacios to realize those dreams than by playing for Pitino at Louisville.

Certainly, he's got plenty of options. Florida State, Baylor, and Indiana, among others would also love to have his services next season. But each of those programs that comprise Palacios' current list, though excellent options, lack the complete package that Pitino and Louisville can offer.

Next fall, when the annual slew of preseason publications hit newsstands, you won't find the Seminoles, Bears, or Hoosiers ranked in the top five, as Pitino's team will be. Want to talk about national television appearances? Louisville made 14 such appearances this season and that number will certainly increase next year as the Cardinals travel to Maui for three games against the likes of North Carolina and Stanford. Factor in fan enthusiasm, facilities, and support for athletes, and Louisville ranks second to none.

But the most compelling reason why Louisville is the best fit for Palacios remains Pitino.

Sure Leonard Hamilton, Scott Drew and Mike Davis are fine coaches and run good programs. But if you're a prospect looking for a national caliber program with a coach who has consistently developed players who've made it big in the NBA, Louisville and Pitino are the obvious choice.

From Mashburn to Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer to Derek Anderson, and Nazr Mohammed to Scott Padgett, Pitino has few peers when it comes to preparing players who eventually strike it rich at the next level. Another fact worth stating, each of those players listed above still draw big paychecks from NBA front offices!

Tello Palacios has a bright future ahead of him and he'll almost certainly be successful at any of the schools he currently lists. But with Pitino, success isn't a question, it's a certainty. And he's got a proven track record and an impressive Wall of Fame to prove it!

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