Pitino focused on NY trio for 2004
With the University of Louisville off to one of its best starts in school history, ranked #2 in the AP poll and preparing to make a run at title number three, Coach Rick Pitino is already focused and working overtime to stockpile the Cardinals future arsenal.
Last week, Pitino was especially active on the recruiting trail. On Tuesday, Pitino went hunting for a shot blocker to kick off his 2004 recruiting class. He didn't have to travel far, finding 6'10 Terrance Farley of Pleasure Ridge Park right in his own back yard. Pitino offered a scholarship through PRP coach Dale Mabrey following the Panthers game against the Central Yellow Jackets and the athletic Farley committed on the spot, becoming the first member of what could quickly become a blockbuster class of 2004 for the second year Louisville coach.
Then Pitino turned his attention to a trio of top 20 players from Pitino's native New York.
Following the Cards win over rival Cincinnati last Wednesday, Pitino wasted no time jetting up north to catch his top power forward prospect in the class of 2004, Tello Palacios of Our Savior New American School in Centereach, NY, in action Thurday night. And that wasn't the first time Pitino made a special effort to see the 6'8, 250 Palacios this season.
At Thanksgiving, Pitino and Associate Coach Mick Cronin made a special trip to catch Palacios, a native of Columbia, in action at the War on the Shore Tournament. Palacios was impressive, scoring 20 points while displaying his perimeter skills by knocking in 2-2 three point shots.
"Palacios is a very skilled big man with a soft touch and great size. [He's] one of the elite big men in a loaded Class of 2004," said Dave Telep of TheInsidersHoops.com.
Palacios, who has been favorably compared to former Pitino standout Jamal Mashburn, is the strong, versatile power forward Pitino likes to have. Tello can shoot the three, handle the ball, find the open man and grab rebounds in the paint.
Late last month, Palacios led Our Savior to the title at the first annual Flyin' to the Hoop Tournament in Dayton and was named MVP after scoring 69 points and grabbing 22 rebounds in three games. Against Lexington Catholic in Dayton, Palacios poured in 27 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, dished out 9 assists and threw in 2 blocks to complete an outstanding all around performance.
Palacios was also named MVP of the Bull City Classic in Durham after leading Our Savior with 27 points and 9 rebounds against Life Center for the title. He also scored 22 points in a loss to Blair Academy and its two top seniors, Charlie Villanueva and Loul Deng.
Pitino and Cronin traveled to the Prime Time Shootout in Trenton, NJ over the weekend and saw Telfair drop in 26 points, including 20 in the second half, despite playing on a badly sprained ankle.
Telfair, who spent the day at the Cards practice as they prepared to play Seton Hall in early December is clearly the Cards top choice at the point in the class of 2004. And according to reliable sources of InsidetheVille.com, Telfair is and has been a heavy Cardinal lean for some time.
"Telfair's one of the most gifted passers to come along in the past few seasons. He has a knack for finding guys whether in traffic or on the break and he really sees the floor well and has a very good handle. His outside game is coming along and he has a presence..that others try to replicate," Telep said of the 2002 Adidas ABCD All-Star game MVP.
With Pitino's 2004 center prospect in the bag and his sights firmly focused on his top power forward and point guard prospects, the last piece of the 2004 recruiting puzzle appears to be an athletic wing player that can explode to the rim and knock down the three point shot.
And that player appears to be 6'6 forward J.R. Smith of Newark St. Benedict.
In hindsight, Pitino utilized the Seton Hall game as a major recruiting tool last December for his up and coming program. Not only did he use the game to showcase the program to a national ESPN audience, he was able to show off the Cardinals relentless, pro style practice to Telfair and took his entire staff and team to a St. Benedict's game to show Smith lots of love.
And that effort by Pitino and team appears ready to return big dividends to the Cardinal program.
Smith told Chris Baldwin of the Asbury Park Press over the weekend at the Prime Time Shootout that Louisville is now his top college choice because of Coach Pitino's ability to put his players in the NBA.
"You look at what a coach like Rick Pitino's done and it makes you want to follow him. Pitino sends guys to the NBA and that's where I want to be. Look at how he helped Reece Gaines, a big guard like me," Smith explained to Baldwin.
Smith, an explosive scorer and athlete averaged 26 points and drained more than 100 three pointers last season at Lakewood High School.
"Smith has range, superior athleticism and is a big finisher," said Telep.
"J.R is such an athlete. He's an elite skywalker, but he can shoot. Usually, with these elite wing players - they can sky, but they can't shoot. Smith breaks the mold. He loves to bolt out on the wing and he grabs rebounds and starts the break himself as well. Smith needs to be a little more consistent, but he's going to be right there with the top 25 players in his class," said east coast recruiting analyst Clint Jackson of InsideCarolina.com.
And if the above class comes to fruition, Pitino will have landed a top shot blocker, a versatile and strong power forward in the Jamal Mashburn/Antoine Walker mold, an explosive wing that can finish the break and knock down the three point shot and the top point guard in the class to deliver the ball and force the tempo.
What more could Cardinal fans hope for!