Teague, the No. 1 point guard in the junior class and an elite difference-maker in the backcourt, was the centerpiece that Pitino intended to weld a blockbuster 2011 recruiting class around – a class Pitino has been pointing toward for more than a year to get his program back into the national title hunt.
After Louisville's 2010 recruiting class imploded – Jeremy Tyler skipped his senior year to play pro ball in Israel and two other commitments didn't pan out for various reasons – Pitino made clear that his program was throwing virtually all of it's efforts into loading up in 2011 – and Teague was expected to be the biggest prize. Pitino reiterated those sentiments earlier this week.
"We don't want to sign too many right now because we've banked on the junior class," Pitino said, referring to his plans to close out the 2010 recruiting class with just two or three total players. "We don't want any more than that because we have the junior class that we've put a lot of effort and work."
Teague's decision had to be disheartening to Pitino on several levels. Not only did he lose a key prospect that he had invested years recruiting, but he lost him to his arch-nemesis, Kentucky's John Calipari. Disheartening. Frustrating. Angering. They all apply on this one.
"I was out more this year during the season than the last five combined," Pitino said days before Teague's announcement. "We're excited about the potential of the players we're involved with."
Now, Pitino must put the five-star point guard's disheartening decision behind and quickly shift gears in pursuit of suitable replacements for Teague and Michael Chandler, a five-star center who backed out of his commitment to Louisville last week.
The first call Pitino is expected to make in the wake of Teague's announcement is to Jabarie Hinds, a 6-0 point guard who led Mount Vernon (NY) H.S to the state title this season. Hinds, who is on his way to a four-star ranking, isn't quite on Teague's level, but he has solid credentials and promises to be an outstanding college player down the road. Before suffering a foot injury that will sideline his the rest of the spring, Hinds impressed onlookers last week at the Pittsburgh Jam Fest, one of April's top AAU events.
"[Hinds] has impressive speed, is a solid athlete and can really score," Scout.com's Evan Daniels said. "To go with his scoring punch, Hinds has good vision and is terrific when he get(s) the ball out in transition. There's no question about it, Hinds certainly made believers out of quite a few people in Pittsburgh."
Pitino is also in pursuit of five-star power forward Quincy Miller. Miller, though, is also heavily considering national champion Duke and Kentucky, and the Cardinals could run into the same obstacle that kept Teague away from Louisville – John Calipari and his 'persuasive' recruiting pitch.
Another player to keep a close watch on this spring is 6-foot-7 forward Chane Behanan. Behanan and the Cardinals have been building a strong relationship the past few months and Pitino could make a move toward securing his services this spring. An undersized 'four' now, Behanan showed analysts an improved skill-set in Pittsburgh last week and could project as a physically overpowering wing player in college.
In the more immediate future, Pitino needs to secure a commitment from 6-foot-10 shot blocker Gorgui Dieng for next season. Dieng, one of the top uncommitted prospects left in the Class of 2010, was the MVP of the Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic and made a strong showing last week at the Pump N Run Tournament in Colorado. He's expected to visit Marquette this weekend and could announce a decision sometime next week. The Cardinals are believed to be the favorite.
Pitino also needs Justin Coleman, who signed a letter of intent this week with Louisville, to secure his academic eligibility for next season. Coleman still hasn't taken the ACT/SAT and will need to compete summer school, but if eligible could make a major impact at small forward next season for Louisville – a position of need for the Cardinals.
Marquis Teague's loss was a major blow for Louisville, without question. But with Blackshear and Price on board, Pitino can still piece together a strong 2011 recruiting class that would meet his program's needs and maintain the Cardinals status as one of the top players in the ultra-competitive Big East.