When the Cardinals take on the three time defending Canadian national champions at 8:00 p.m. tonight (the game will be broadcast live on 840 WHAS), sophomore guard/forward Terrence Williams will look to unveil his new and improved game.
"He's learning to go to his strengths," Pitino said. "He really has great court vision and he sees the floor great. T-Will is a great passer and a good leader, but he still has a lot of maturing to do. He's what you want in a young man. He enjoys being a Louisville Cardinal, he loves it. He's a competitor."
According to Pitino, Williams too often settled for jump shots as a freshman rather than using his unique athletic talents to his advantage. Pitino said he's noticed a different player this year.
"What made him struggle at times last season was that he was trying to be a three-point shooter, rather than go to his strengths," Pitino wrote on his website. "It's almost like you have a distance runner who can win a gold medal, but he chooses to run in a 100-yard sprint. That was his mentality last year. He can do so many great things - getting in the lane, his size is great, his vision is great, he has unbelievable athleticism, yet he wanted to be a spot up three-point shooter. T-Will is maturing and I think he'll be a very special basketball player some day. He's got a lot of ability and he listens well. He's much better than last year."
Though Williams has made tremendous improvement, Pitino has called 6'8 junior forward Juan Palacios the ‘team's best player.' Palacios has worked at multiple positions in recent practices, and will likely see action at both power and small forward in Canada.
"I marvel at how much better he is," Pitino said. "There's nothing that he's not doing or no area in which he's not shown vast improvement. He's improved his ball handling, shooting and is doing well playing at small forward."
Palacios said he expects to see a much improved team this season.
Derrick Caracter didn't travel with
the team to Canada while the
school looks into an eligibility
issue stemming from high school.
"Compared to last year we're (a lot) better," he said. "The whole attitude and the talent of the team is better. The team is more together. So I think we're going to have a very good year this year."
Pitino also has sounded an optimistic tone about his team this summer. One of the keys for success in 2006-07 will be the health of 6'11 junior center David Padgett and 6'3 senior guard Brandon Jenkins, who broke his leg and suffered a severely sprained ankle last month during a pickup game.
"This year's team is very different," Pitino said. "We've got to overcome our inexperience. That's why I'm hoping Brandon Jenkins can come back and David can get healthy. That will add to this team and make it that much stronger."
While Padgett is expected to be back on the court when practice begins Oct. 14, Jenkins status remains uncertain.
"The way I'll make the decision is when he comes back if he still has his quickness and speed then I wouldn't redshirt him," said Pitino. "If he'd lost that a little bit then I would redshirt him. The No. 1 guy we're thinking about in this equation is Brandon because he's given us three great years. He's not a lock NBA player but we want him to have a chance trying out for the pros. So we want to make sure he has the year that he feels comfortable having."
Even if Jenkins were to redshirt, Pitino said he's finally got the type of talent necessary to play the up-tempo, pressing style that he prefers.
"Physically, this is the most gifted team that I've had here," Pitino said. "This team reminds me of some of the teams I had at Kentucky. We've (only) had two NBA players here. Now, there are guys on this basketball team that can potentially develop into NBA basketball players. It's taken us awhile to get to this point. We're over the hump from a recruiting standpoint."
Without Jenkins, though, the Cardinals would lose their best – and most experienced -perimeter defender. To compensate, Pitino will slide Williams into the backcourt to take Jenkins place. He'll also use 6'3 freshman Jerry Smith, whom Pitino has called ‘the most ready to play as a freshman from a maturity standpoint.'
"There's nobody as good at the defensive end as Brandon," Pitino said. "The closest one would be T-Will. The silver lining in Brandon's injury is that we have to develop Jerry right away to be more of an impact freshman and I am confident he will do that. Most high school basketball players can't check their hat on the defensive end, but he's one of our better defensive players. He's physically very tough, gets after people and makes it very difficult for anyone to be effective."
Another item Pitino will closely monitor in Canada is his teams shooting from the outside. A weakness last season, the sixth-year Louisville coach said he's been surprised in practices leading up to the trip to Canada how well his team has shot the ball from the outside.
"This team is shooting the ball very well," Pitino said. "That's probably been my biggest surprise. They've all made great strides shooting the ball. T-Will is a better shooter. Tello is a better shooter. Huff's a better shooter. Jerry Smith is good shooter. So we have guys who can shoot the basketball."
Louisville will play Ottawa University Sunday at 1 p.m. and conclude their trip to Canada with an 11 a.m. contest against Laurentian University on Monday. The first two games in Canada will be broadcast on WHAS 840 AM, while the third game will be available on WKRD 790 AM. All three radio broadcasts will include a 90-minute pre-game show as well as post-game show.