"I like the potential of this basketball team," Pitino said. "Last year at this time I was very concerned and had a lot of trepidation and I don't have that this year. Although we're very young, I'm much more confident."
Even though Pitino has four starters returning from last season's 21-13 squad, (counting David Padgett and Brandon Jenkins), Pitino will rely heavily on a four-man recruiting class regarded as one of the best in the nation.
"I love our attitude and potential," Pitino said. ""We're a very young basketball team, but all four freshmen will play significant minutes this season. As we get healthier, we'll get better."
Pitino has certainly had to deal with more than his share of injuries this preseason, but it does appear the Cards are on the mend.
"Brandon Jenkins is now walking," Pitino said. "He'll start jogging very soon and we expect in two weeks for him to be actively participating. His foot looks great on x-rays."
Pitino said Jenkins will begin with individual instruction next week and hopes that within two weeks the 6'3 senior guard will return to practice.
"Jenkins will definitely play this year," Pitino said. "I shouldn't say definite, but he's making progress to play this year and unless he has roadblocks that we don't know about we expect him to play."
Three other Cardinals also appear to be feeling much better. 6'11 David Padgett returned to practice this week, and Pitino expects that freshman forward Earl Clark will return to practice this weekend. Clark is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot.
"David Padgett is practicing about 5 percent of the time," Pitino said. "Earl Clark will probably starting running again tomorrow and by the weekend should be practicing again. And Jerry Smith is back practicing. So we're getting healthy."
Once the Cardinals get healthy, Pitino expects to have his deepest, and perhaps, his most talented team in six seasons at U of L.
"We're going to play a very fast pace," Pitino said. "It will be the fastest paced team I've had here. We have the rebounders and shot blockers to get out and run. And we will press and run more than we have here at Louisville."
Pitino also sounded excited about the potential of Derrick Caracter, a 6'9 forward from New Jersey. Caracter will miss Louisville's first three games of the season, but will need to drop about 7-8 pounds and reduce his body fat from 13% to 10% before Pitino puts him on the court.
"For the first time in his life he's being told no," Pitino said. "He has to get adjusted to the world of academia, to the world of clocks, to the world of being in great shape. But he has Charles Barkley type potential. He has great potential. I compare him to Barkley because he was an unstoppable force inside and Derrick could be that way too."
Pitino said he could only name three starters right now, Tello Palacios at power forward, Terrance Farley at center and Terrence Williams at small forward. "Obviously if Brandon is ready he will start," Pitino added. "I've also got a lot of confidence in Terrance Farley and more importantly so do his teammates."
"They're both battling each other and making each other better," Pitino said. "They both very different and will play significant minutes. Andre has really improved and he's in great shape and Edgar's like Francisco (Garcia). He's got great emotion and spirit and I think the fans will be in love with him."
Louisville's first game will come in two weeks against Georgetown College in an exhibition in Freedom Hall. The Cardinals will also host an intra-squad scrimmage next week.
"This team is very athletic, they're very skilled and they're having a lot of fun with practice," Pitino said. "They like to kid around a lot and that's good."
Though Louisville currently has just one verbal commitment from the Class of 2007 (George Goode), Pitino expects that number will increase by the start of the early signing period in November. "We'll probably sign two or three or four," he said. "Next year our goal is to sign a top three recruiting class in the country."
Pitino has been impressed with the development of 6'10 junior Terrance Farley of late. Farley, who told reporters he bench presses more than 330 pounds, will begin the season as the starting center. "Terrance Farley has evolved into the basketball player I was hoping for someday," Pitino said. "He's physically holding his weight at 240. He's very strong. He's much more passionate about the game of basketball. He's very mature now and he's grown up. I think he'll make his presence known in the Big East this year. He'll be a catalyst for our defense."
Pitino called his four man freshman class the "second best recruiting class I've ever had and it may be, before it through, the best I've ever had." Pitino said his class at Kentucky with Tony Delk and Walter McCarty was his best recruiting class ever. "I knew Derrick was a terrific player, but I never knew he was as explosive as he is," Pitino said. "When he gets down to 268 he'll be unstoppable."
While Pitino felt his 2005-06 lacked leadership, the Louisville coach doesn't expect that to be a problem for this years squad. "There's a lot of leadership on this basketball team," he said. Pitino singled Tello Palacios, David Padgett, Brandon Jenkins and Terrence Williams as players capable of providing positive direction for his young team. "Those guys will make sure these freshmen toe the line and I don't think last years team did that."