LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Undoubtedly, David Johnson and Malik Williams are eager to end their unplanned hiatus and get onto the basketball court for Louisville. And U of L fans are just as eager to get their first look this season at the duo -- one a heralded rookie, the other a talented veteran.
However, although both are practicing, warmed up for Sunday's game against North Carolina Central and could have played, according to coach Chris Mack, they are apparently going to be spectators for awhile longer.
Asked if either Johnson, a freshman point guard, or Williams, a junior center, could make their 2019-20 debut Wednesday night against USC Upstate (1-4) in the KFC Yum! Center (7 p.m., ACCN), Mack replied:
"Probably not" before explaining:
"I still think we as a coaching staff and our athletic trainer, we have to see them in live situations in practice before we say, 'okay, let's put them out there on game night.' That's for their long-term, not necessarily our team's long-term. I'd like to get them out there as quickly as tomorrow night, but I don't think that's something they're ready for, even though I know they would tell you differently."
It's not like either player is needed at the moment, with the No. 2 Cardinals (4-0) running roughshod over a steady stream of visiting lightweights after making ACC foe Miami also look like one of that overmatched group in their opener on the road.
U of L has led by 24 points or more in each game. Its average winning margin stands at 23.5 and is likely to increase against USC Upstate, whose roster is populated by all freshmen and sophomores.
"I can imagine if I had 13 Quinn Slazinskis out there the growing pains I would have," Mack joked, referring to one of his six freshmen. "There would be two of us getting an appendectomy."
Appendicitis attacks aren't likely for a coach whose team is breezing along like Mack's squad. Everything is clicking. The Cards lead the nation in field goal percentage at 56.6 and are ninth in 3-point field goal percentage at 44.3, statistics that can be attributed at least in part to their weak schedule so far. They have also limited opponents to 35.7 percent overall, 39th nationally.
While there isn't any doubt about the outcome, Mack wants to see better play for longer periods of time against the Spartans.
"Good competitors, good players, great teams, doesn't matter what the opponent looks like or who they are," Mack said. "You come out and play to your standard and we haven't always done that for 40 minutes, which is extremely difficult.
"But we need to get closer to getting 40 minutes to our standard no matter who we play. When we do, it won't matter if we're playing USC Upstate, Texas Tech or Duke. Doesn't mean we'll win every game, but I'll be able to sleep at night feeling like our kids gave the best effort and we'll try to improve through a win or through a loss. Both have teaching moments."
NUMBER 2, BUT WHO CARES
Louisville leaped over Michigan State this week and is ranked No. 2 behind Duke in both polls, but Mack isn't claiming that the Cards are actually the second-best team in the country.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm not worried about that. It's four games and I've watched about seven teams, so. . ."
He was then asked how long it typically takes for him to get a feel for how good
his team is or can be and it elicited a similar response.
"I've never worried aobut how bad we are or how good we are," he said. "I let other people judge that. I just worry about what I put on the practice plan and how we're executing it."
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.