Kuric makes strong early season impression

A year ago at this time University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino was questioning his recruitment of Kyle Kuric. But after his strong play early this season, Pitino is glad the Cardinals have the 6'5 sophomore forward.

But Tuesday he was fielding questions from NBA scouts about the 6-foot-4 sophomore wing from Evansville, Ind. Then Wednesday night he was fielding even more from the media about Kuric, who scored 15 points - and along with freshman Peyton Siva, sparked the Cardinals' second-half surge - in UofL's 80-68 exhibition victory over Georgetown College.

"I'll bet you, I don't know how many people we had (at Freedom Hall) 15,000 or 14,500 people (actually 17,184) didn't think Kyle Kuric could play coming in that door because of what they witnessed last year," Pitino said. "Now you watch him and say, ‘Boy he's really good, he's really improving, he's really getting better,' and that's what you want to see from a program. You want to see young guys grow, stay together and get better."

But last year at this time Pitino didn't know what he'd gotten himself into with Kuric, who averaged 20.8 points and 6.7 rebounds his senior season at Evansville Memorial High School.

"I didn't think he was our level (of player), I was second-guessing myself that maybe I made a mistake," Pitino said on UofL's media day. "But he looks terrific. He had a dunk yesterday (Oct. 21) in traffic that, even the players stopped. He looks very good."

Just how good?

"We've had five pro scouts in to watch us practice," Pitino said Wednesday night. "And yesterday the No. 1 question, and I'm coaching probably too long (at) 30-something years, and I never thought I'd get two guys asking, ‘Who is that guy?' And, ‘What's his name?' and, ‘Where's he from?' and, ‘What year is he in?' about Kyle Kuric. I never thought I'd see that day in this program. He's getting better and better and you just see him grow, and his confidence is growing."

It showed against the Tigers when Kuric shot 6-for-11 from the floor, was 2-for-2 from the foul line, grabbed seven rebounds, tallied three steals and dished out two assists in 29 minutes. Not too shabby for a guy who played in only 17 games last season (only walk-on Lee Steiden appeared in fewer) and averaged just 1.6 points while practicing against future first-round NBA Draft pick Terrence Williams on a daily basis.

"It was a lot of fun seeing T-Will doing it (last year), and then going out and doing it myself," Kuric said Wednesday. "Going against him every day was like nothing I've ever done.

"Last year was the kind of year where I was getting used to everything. (This year) I'm trying to help the team out as much as I can."

Against Georgetown he, along with freshman guard Peyton Siva, helped key a 14-5 run by the Cardinals that saw them go from two points down (51-49) to seven points ahead (63-56). He started the surge with a two-hand rebound dunk off a miss from Terrence Jennings.

"I think Kyle Kuric is a very good rebounded," Pitino said. "He's got much better athleticism, you guys don't see it as much (yet), but we see it in practice."

Kuric continued to show it in that surge. He slammed home another dunk, off a wrap-around pass from Siva on a fast break, to give UofL the lead for good (55-53) with 7:55 remaining in the game. Kuric returned the favor moments later when he stole the ball, then dished it to Siva for layup. In all in accounted for 10 of the Cards' 14 points in that spurt, capping the run with a layup (off another assist from Siva) and two free throws.

"We call him Speed Racer," Siva said of Kuric afterward. "He just keeps going and going." Asked afterward if he ever gets tired Kuric responded: "I get tired, I get very tired, I just don't show it."

But his hard work over the summer showed Wednesday night.

"Kuric's been tremendous, he's worked very hard in the offseason," senior guard Jerry Smith said. "And he gets to the glass like no other."

All the while staying soft-spoken.

"He's the quiet killer, he doesn't say much," Smith said.

Instead Kuric lets his play, and Pitino, do his talking for him.

"He really understands how to go backdoor against pressure, I think he's very good defensively and I think he's got a nose for the ball rebounding wise, he'll mix it up," Pitino said. "He's worked on his body, he's gotten a lot stronger, he's worked on his ball-handling (and) he's a very good shooter that doesn't need a lot of time to get his shot off."

Kuric could continue to push Reginald Delk for UofL's starting small forward job. On media day Pitino said that, "Reggie is not definitely starting. Kyle is (pushing him) it's a 1 and 1A (situation)."

But whether he starts, or finishes games, it's safe to say that Kuric will be enjoying himself.

"I'm having a lot of fun, especially with these guys, it's easy to have fun out there with them," he said.

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