Two years ago, 6-11 James Lang of Birmingham, AL turned down a chance to play for the Cardinals to jump directly from high school to the NBA. Last year, Louisville's two most celebrated signees, Sebastian Telfair and Donta Smith, followed suit.
And while Telfair and Smith are currently earning NBA paychecks, Lang's decision probably cost him millions. The former McDonald's All-American is now bouncing around basketball's minor league playing for peanuts, and hoping to get a shot at the big-time after being taken in the second round of the 2003 NBA Draft.
Which leads us to Louisville's top recruit this year, 6-9, 220-pound McDonald's All-American Amir Johnson from Los Angeles (CA) Westchester.
Johnson, averaged 21 points and 15 rebounds this season. In the process, he led his high school team to the L.A. city championship and a Division I state title.
A relatively raw, but extraordinarily gifted athletic specimen, Johnson will likely have to make a decision relatively soon about where his future will take him - to Louisville and Pitino or the NBA.
Tuesday night at the 41st annual Roundball Classic in Chicago, Johnson's talent was on display before hords of NBA scouts and exec's.
Though he took no hardware back to California with him after the game, Johnson might have been the best prospect on a court loaded with future NBA type's. Showing a well-rounded game, Johnson scored 17 points on 8-11 field goal shooting that included several rim-rattling jams and a soft mid-range jumper. And though he pulled down just 4 rebounds, Johnson blocked 4 shots while pulling duty against 6-11 NBA-bound center Andray Blache. He also made 3 steals for good measure.
Amir Johnson spoke with Inside The Ville
following his 17 point, 4 block performance
Tuesday night at the EA Sports Roundball Classic.
Asked about his future, and whether he'll help Louisville compete for a Big East title next season, Johnson couldn't give a definitive answer.
"I have no idea," Johnson responded when asked if he 'd be playing at Louisville or the National Basketball Association next season. "I don't really know. So far I'm going to Louisville. But if I'm a lottery pick, I'll probably go."
And there seems to be some debate about his first-round worth. His game still needs work, and a couple years playing under Pitino would only help. According to sources who attended Monday's Roundball Classic practice session at Loyola's Gentile Center, several NBA scouts in attendance didn't seem enamored by the speculation that Johnson might enter the draft this spring.
One player who hopes Johnson makes the decision to go to Louisville was 6-5 Cardinals' signee Bryan Harvey. Harvey teammed with Johnson to help lead the West All-Stars to a 136-119 Classic victory, and said following the he's not sure what the 6-9 standout is going to do.
"I hope (he comes to Louisville)," said Harvey, who scored 13 points, including draining 3-8 three-pointers Tuesday night. "I asked him about it, but he didn't really give me a straight answer. I hope he's there next year. If he goes to the (NBA) after high school that is a good thing for him and I wish him the best of luck, but if he doesn't and comes to Louisville that'd be great, too."
Johnson didn't sound too worried after last night's game about the decision he'll soon have to make about his future.
"Mainly, I'm just having fun," Johnson said. "I'm not really worried about it, I'm just paying basketball."
He's also been keeping a close eye on the school he signed with last November as they continue to advance in the NCAA tournament.
"I think they are going to win the whole thing," predicted Johnson of Louisville's chances in the tournament.