How good was Clark, coach?
"When you watch the film he was terrific," Pitino said. "He was by far the best player and he was the MVP statistically the way we gauge it."
Pitino looks at a lot more than the eight points on 3 of 7 shooting Clark scored against Northern Kentucky. The Louisville coach was more impressed by his game-high 10 rebounds and his unselfish play on offense, evidenced by his team-high four assists.
"I had people texting me from New York saying Earl Clark didn't seem to be into it," said Pitino. "Well, every bucket that Samardo got was from Earl Clark beating his man and distributing it and finding him. Earl Clark was getting the tough rebounds and making the good plays defensively and the proper rotations."
Clark has come a long way since his freshman season, when Pitino said he could barely finish his rigorous practice sessions. Now, a more mature Clark is perhaps the hardest worker on Pitino's squad.
defense and unselfishness in the NKU game.
"If I ever called an early morning practice Earl Clark might as well have stayed in bed," said Pitino, recalling Clark's early days in the program. "I couldn't get anything out of him. (Now) every single day we come in here at 6:30 Earl Clark's on the court going through his dribbling drills, going through his shooting drills. He's here every morning going through the same routine. By far he spends the most time in the gym of any player we have."
Clark is clearly motivated to take his game to the next level – and in the process help Louisville reach the Final Four this season.
"Earl Clark is extremely motivated – obviously he's doing this to be a great pro as well as to help us win," Pitino said. "They (NBA scouts) would be extremely impressed with Earl Clark - the fact that he was able to break people down. That's what he can do – he can create shots for other people."
While Samuels was strong on the offensive end, hitting 10 of 11 shots and 9 of 12 free throws, Pitino wasn't happy that the 6'8, 255-pound freshman grabbed just four rebounds in 30 minutes against NKU's smaller frontcourt players or with his play on defense.
"Samardo scored 29 points without no effort because nobody was guarding him and he didn't play particularly well. He gave up too many points on defense, he didn't have a defensive rebound until 1:30 in the game and the person watching in the stands said ‘boy was he good!'
"Well nobody guarded him, he didn't play any defense, he didn't get a defensive rebound and he didn't pass real well. Now I'm not taking away his ability – he's a terrific basketball player for a freshman."
Pitino said he let both his frontcourt starters know how he felt about their performances in the Cardinals final exhibition before the season-opener Nov. 22 against Morehead State.
"I gave Earl Clark (credit). I said ‘I watched that film Earl and you were terrific. You were unselfish, the difference-maker in the game.' And I went overboard in our meeting," Pitino said. "And I got all over Samardo for the way he played."
Pitino said Samuels has responded well in practice this week.
"He's practiced great," Pitino said. "He's a hard-worker and I love him as a basketball player. But he didn't play particularly well. When you're 6'8, 255 I expect 13-15 rebounds. That's what I expect of him and that's a compliment. If I think he's capable of getting that 12, 13 or 14 rebounds I think he's a hell of a basketball player."
And if Samuels doesn't start hauling down more rebounds than he did against the Norse?
"For me it's great," joked Pitino. "Let him continue getting 1,2,3 rebounds and he'll be a senior someday for me. I love it."
Kyle Kuric is still struggling to recover from a nasty spill he had against Georgetown in Louisville's first exhibition earlier this month. Pitino said Kuric, a 6'5 freshman guard from Evansville, IN., has a high ankle sprain and isn't practicing with the team. Kuric did go through modest individual instruction Wednesday morning, though.
While Kuric is slow to return, Terrence Williams is back practicing with the team and apparently his knee injury has slowed him down one bit. "T-Will is back to practice," Pitino said. "From the first day back…you would have never known he was injured. He's not quite there defensively where we want him. He's a little slow reacting on defense but that's just going to take a few more practices."
Pitino said Williams will be ready to play against Morehead State next week and will also play this Saturday in a closed-to-the-public Red-White scrimmage at the YUM! Center.