Where does Pitino turn now?

The key to Rick Pitino's 2010 recruiting class – 7'0 Sagemont (FL) Academy star Fab Melo – spurned Louisville for Syracuse on Tuesday. Where do the Cardinals turn now?

Can Rick Pitino salvage Louisville's 2010 recruiting class? That's the biggest question facing the Cardinals head coach after Fab Melo spurned Louisville for Syracuse.

There's no denying Fab Melo's decision to commit to Syracuse was a major blow to Rick Pitino's 2010 recruiting efforts. Pitino put his proverbial eggs in the 7-0 centers basket and came up short, though he didn't lose out for lack of effort.

Pitino did everything possible to land Melo. The Louisville coach ‘discovered' the Brazilian native last fall and recruited him longer than any other coach in the nation. Pitino also had Melo on campus for a visit last season and pursued him relentlessly during the July evaluation period.

Fab Melo was a
tough loss for Pitino.

That's why his loss stings so badly. Not only was Melo a critical piece to Louisville's 2010 recruiting puzzle but the Cardinals did everything possible to land him.

But that's the nature of recruiting. You win some; you lose some. In cases like this it hurts even more because of the time and effort expended only to fall short. It's certainly not the first time Louisville has lost out on a coveted prospect and it won't be the last.

It's certainly been a rough recruiting season for Louisville – a program that won both the Big East regular-season and tournament titles last season, advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight the past two seasons and will open a spectacular arena next season.

So why is Pitino, a future Hall of Fame coach, experiencing difficulties on the recruiting trail this year?

"Two things that standout to me and people in Louisville may not want to hear it but it's the reality – the off-season news involving Rick Pitino certainly didn't help and I think the other thing is that Pitino didn't need to hire another X and O guy (Ralph Willard)," said Jeff Goodman, FoxSports.com senior college basketball writer. "I can understand why he did it – the guy can coach and he's proven it – but most schools have three guys on the bench who recruit. You need players to win championships and get to the Final Four and I think it would have made more sense for them to hire another big-time recruiter to replace Richard Pitino."

The loss of Pitino to Florida last spring looms large. Pitino, one of the top up and coming recruiters in the country, was the point man on several of the Cardinals top 2010 recruiting targets, including Fab Melo, Top 25 point guard Corey Joseph and Justin Martin. Many analysts believe Louisville would have landed both Melo and Joseph had Pitino stuck around at Louisville instead of bolting for Billy Donovan's staff.

"I believe Richard is one of the top up and coming assistant coaches," Goodman said. "You're going to see it at Florida that he doesn't need his father to get kids. He got a lot done at Louisville and his loss to Florida, coupled with the fact that they didn't add another recruiter is what really hurts."

What once looked like a promising 2010 recruiting class has been derailed by two de-commitments and the loss of Melo to Big East rival Syracuse. Louisville secured early commitments from Jeremy Tyler, one of the nation's Top 5 prospects, and Justin Martin, a Top 75 small forward. But both players backed out on their commitments – Tyler skipping high school to play professional basketball in Europe and Martin opening back up to consider other options.

J.J. Moore has Louisville
high on his list.

Now, Louisville's once promising 2010 recruiting class has only Josh Langford, an athletic, 6-foot-6 small forward who projects as a role player until he further develops his perimeter skill set. The big question heading into the fall is where do Pitino and staff turn now to salvage the class and meet some of the programs needs for the 2010-11 basketball season?

With the loss of three perimeter players – Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith and Reginald Delk - following the 2009-10 season, and the possibility of Samardo Samuels or Terrence Jennings leaving early for the NBA, Louisville ideally would like to add some perimeter firepower and a strong inside presence or two.

Some possibilities include Top 100 small forward J.J. Moore, Top 25 power forward Tobias Harris, Top 10 center Josh Smith, and Top 100 forward Rod Odom. Moore is strongly considering Louisville, along with Pittsburgh, UConn, St. John's and Providence. Harris, who still has a long list, includes the Cardinals as one of eleven programs still involved in his recruitment. Smith appears a long-shot and is rumored to be nearing a commitment to UCLA. And Odom could become a prime recruiting target but is similar to Louisville freshman Rakeem Buckles.

And while there's a strong possibility Louisville could make a late charge with a few other uncommitted 2010 prospects, the Cardinals best chance for recruiting success rests with the Class of 2011. Louisville already holds commitments from Top 25 center Michael Chandler and Top 60 small forward Ryan Taylor. Many analysts also believe Louisville is extremely close to securing a commitment from Top 5 guard Marquis Teague and could also secure a verbal from Top 25 shooting guard Wayne Blackshear.

While the loss of Fab Melo definitely soured Louisville's hopes for a strong recruiting class in 2010, Pitino could quickly turn the Cardinals recruiting fortunes around in 2011 with a class loaded with promising – and talented - options.

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