LOUISVILLE — Chris Mack is facing a dilemma.
Now that the ACC season is well underway, the Louisville basketball coach wants to give his talented freshman class experience against high-level competition, with his thinking involving both the present and future.
In regard to the current season, Mack worries that contributions by one or two of the rookies could be needed in case of injury or foul trouble. And looking ahead, he knows many of them will move into the rotation next season due to heavy personnel exits after this year.
U of L will lose seniors Dwayne Sutton, Steven Enoch, Ryan McMahon, Fresh Kimble and, most likely, leading scorer and rebounder Jordan Nwora, who is expected to enter the NBA draft after exploring his options this past spring and summer, then deciding to return for his junior season.
Those five players have accounted for 73 percent of the Cards’ scoring this year, 63% of their rebounds and 61 percent of their assists, not to mention their value on defense.
Among the players being relied on most this season, only starting guard Darius Perry and reserve center Malik Williams return. They have combined for a mere 13 points and 8.5 rebounds of Louisville’s totals of 75 points and 40 rebounds per game.
So freshmen Samuell Williamson, David Johnson, Aidan Igiehon, Josh Nickelberry, Quinn Slazinski and Jae’Lyn Withers, who is being redshirted, are the immediate future of the program.
Of those, only Williamson and Johnson have played significant minutes, averaging 15.4 and 7.8, respectively.
Problem is, just about any time Mack sends those two or any of the other three active rookies onto the court, things go south for the Cards.
The latest example came in U of L’s 74-58 win over Miami (Fla.) Tuesday night when, with Williamson and Johnson on the floor, the Cards’ lead dwindled from 20 points to 11.
“Sucks, doesn’t it?” Mack said on his post-game radio show.
And that’s not the only time the newcomers have disappointed their coach. In the season opener against Miami, four freshmen plus Perry were outscored 14-0 in the final three minutes of an 87-74 victory. Against Kentucky, Williamson somehow managed to commit three fouls in two minutes.
Williams and Johnson played a combined 21 minutes Tuesday, with six points, one rebound, four fouls and two turnovers apiece.
Mack is hoping for a better performance when No. 13 U of L (11-3, 3-1) tips off its three-game road swing at Notre Dame (10-5, 1-3) at Saturday at 2 p.m. ET.
“They have to be better and they are better than that,” Mack said. “They’re out here in ACC play for the first time and they have to take that experience and when we go to Notre Dame, instead of two turnovers out of them, each one. If they just sit on the bench they’re not gonna get a whole lot better. They’ve got to learn, when they get to practice that’s the thing coach is talking about — being stronger with the ball, coming to a jump stop, not being so antsy early in the shot clock. Defensively, not getting rejected on a ball screen. All the little things. Our older guys aren’t perfect, but they’re a lot more experienced and a lot more veteran savvy.”