As the season has progressed, so have guards Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith, and forwards Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter. The freshmen played a big role in Louisville's upset road win over No. 5 Pittsburgh last Monday, scoring 30 of the Cardinals 66 points. They'll have to play well again Saturday night if the Cardinals hope to exact revenge on Marquette.
Sosa and Smith have been steady performers from the start for Rick Pitino. The duo has started 9 games this season and have averaged a combined 19.3 points – the fifth highest freshman scoring duo in U of L history.
Though Clark, a former McDonald's All-American, came in with the most impressive credentials, it took the 6-9 forward some time to adjust to the college game. He struggled early this season, but has come on strong in the past few weeks.
Clark has averaged 18 minutes over Louisville's past eight games and posted back-to-back 14 point outings against both Villanova and Georgetown. In the Cardinals comeback victory over Syracuse last month, Clark scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Caracter, perhaps the most naturally gifted of the four freshmen, has been in and out of the Cardinals lineup all year. He missed the team's first three games because of suspension, then was sent home over the Christmas break for violating team rules. After a brief absence, he returned to the team, but missed several league games for failing to live up to a contract he signed in order to come back to the team after Christmas.
After dropping two straight to Villanova and Georgetown earlier this month, Caracter returned to the lineup last Saturday against South Florida and played a major role in Louisville's past two wins against the Bulls and Pittsburgh. Caracter is averaging 12 points and 7 rebounds since returning.
"These guys are getting so much experience that it's only going to help them come tournament time," Pitino said. "Earl Clark has developed, (Edgar) Sosa, Jerry Smith, and now Derrick (Caracter) is developing. So all four guys have developed nicely."
None of the four likely will earn Big East Freshman of the Year honors, but they've each made a major impact for the 18-8 Cardinals this season.
energized the Cardinals.
"I think they've all done quite well," Pitino said. "All four are having outstanding freshman years. They're not going to be freshman of the year in the conference, but all four have added significantly to our basketball team."
Pitino has been consistent in his praise for his current freshmen and thinks they'll stick around for a while. If they do, the future looks bright for Louisville.
"Without question, this is one of the top classes I've had as a coach," Pitino said. "They're going to be here because they're not going anywhere. I think Earl Clark has the most potential of the group, but I couldn't guarantee that."
"We spend a lot of time charting the course of this program," Pitino said. "We knew right now we wanted to bring in one guy that needs a lot of work – (Clarence) Holloway and we needed a shooter up front and that's why we're bringing in George Goode who is a great shooter."
But Pitino's big plan for the future includes another strong recruiting haul in 2008. Louisville already has verbal commitments from a pair of Top 50 prospects – New York forward Melquan Bolding and California center Jeff Withey.
"Then we want to follow that with a Top 5 recruiting class," Pitino said. "We know that adding that Top 5 class when these (freshmen) are juniors is a perfect scenario. We're going to get it done."