Gone from last season's 31-6 Big East championship team that advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight for a second straight year are NBA lottery picks Terrence Williams and Earl Clark, plus lock-down point guard Andre McGee.
While Pitino has three returning starters from that team, and several others who saw significant action last season, these Cards will have a new identity this season.
"The things that stick out about us right now is they've got a great attitude as a team and they work extremely hard," Pitino said. "That's a great combination to have."
Pitino has been pleased with his team's work ethic and attitude so far this preseason. The ninth-year Louisville coach put his squad through double practice sessions last Saturday and Sunday and expected Monday's practice to be a letdown, something he'd come to expect in more than 30 years of coaching experience.
"This is the most fired up I've been because I get fired up by great attitude and work ethic," Pitino said. "They came back Monday after double sessions on Saturday and Sunday and had great individuals and practice. They enjoy working and they enjoy each other."
While Williams, now playing for the New Jersey Nets, and Clark, who plays for the Phoenix Suns, were Louisville's leading scorers and rebounders last season, the Cardinals might miss their passing abilities most. Williams led the Cards in assists last season, while Clark was one of the better passing power forwards in the country.
"We're trying to play a little faster than last year because I don't believe we'll be as good a passing team as last year," Pitino said. "We need to create easier buckets because T-Will, Andre and Earl all understood spacing and passing."
With four new freshman on the roster, plus bigger roles for returning forwards Reggie Delk and Jared Swopshire, Pitino has made it clear that communication between the new parts will be crucial to his team's success this season.
"We're really concentrating on talking more where last year we didn't have to do that as much because our guys knew where to go," said Pitino. "In order for us to have a big winning season this year we've got to we've got to verbally communicate and talk to each other off the court, in the dormitory, we've got to go out to dinner and we've got to really communicate with each other to be a good basketball team."
That communication was on display during Thursday's practice session when the players called out each others names before making a pass. Chatter was also evident on defense with players calling out switches and they were vocal on the press.
"We're going to mix up our presses," Pitino said. "We are not going to be as experienced...mentally as we were last year [so] we've got to confuse our opponents even more."
The big questions this preseason: Who will replace Williams and Clark?
Delk, a two-year starter at Mississippi State before transferring to Louisville, played sparingly behind Williams last season at small forward. He appears the favorite to win the starting job over sophomore Kyle Kuric, who also played well in Thursday's intrasquad scrimmage.
With Pitino talking, at least for now, about not playing sophomores Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings together in the frontcourt, sophomore Jared Swopshire got the start yesterday at power forward next to Samuels. He led the Red team with 28 points in the scrimmage and added about 20 pounds of muscle to his frame during the off-season. Swopshire is fighting with freshman Rakeem Buckles for the starting nod.
"It was great for both guys to get that type of competition each day," said Pitino, referring to going against Williams and Clark in practice last year. "Reggie Delk has played much better than I witnessed last year. And Jared Swopshire looks much better. Rakeem and Swop are going to battle it out for that spot."
"I think it will be great for Peyton Siva to battle Edgar Sosa each day," Pitino said. "It helps Preston [Knowles] and Jerry [Smith]. Competition truly makes you better because you have to play at your max to perform. That competition will make us better."
Pitino expects a big season from Sosa, who had eight assists in Thursday's intrasquad action.
"He's really gotten it offensively and as a leader," said Pitino. "His last hurdle is he has to play defense like a great player. His offense is really impressive right now. If he can get his defense up to that level he's really going to be a special point guard."
Up front, Pitino believes Samuels experience leading his native Jamaica to the Caribbean Championship over the summer will pay dividends on the court this season. Samuels earned MVP honors in that tournament and was dominant in the paint yesterday.
"He needs to get out on the perimeter and guard people and he's working hard on that now," Pitino said.
As for Jennings, one of the top shot blockers in the Big East last season, Pitino said the 6'10 sophomore needs to improve his fundamentals.
"I don't see a whole lot of difference in his game from last year to this year," Pitino said. "He looks stronger physically but we've got to work real hard on his game fundamentally."
Fans can get a first look at the team at a Red-White intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday, Oct. 25 at 3 p.m. in Freedom Hall. Tickets for the event are $5 at the U of L Ticket Office; online at www.ticketmaster.com online, by calling (502) 361-3100.
U of L plays its first exhibition game on Wednesday, Oct. 28 against Georgetown College in Freedom Hall. The Cards open the season on Nov. 17 against Arkansas in the Hall of Fame Showcase in St. Louis, Mo.
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