There are a lot of reasons why players commit to Louisville. It’s a well-respected academic institution, Rick Pitino is a Hall of Fame head coach with a resume for developing talent that few in the country can match and they provide the opportunity to play against the best on a nightly basis. The one prevailing reason that consistently draws top-tier recruits there, though, is the belief that if they succeed they will end up in the NBA.
Through two years, Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell did everything necessary to make his aspirations of becoming a professional reality. He excelled as a role player his freshman year and won a national championship. As a sophomore, he exploded and became one of the best power forwards in the country, averaging 14 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.3 blocks. He was projected to be a lottery pick almost unanimously across all of the preeminent mock drafts. There was a chance that he could have slipped past the top 14, but he was a surefire first-round pick, one highly unlikely to be on the board past 20.
Yet, shockingly, Harrell decided that he wanted to return for his junior season.
“I felt like I had some more things to work on,” Harrell told Basketball Insiders. “I felt like I wanted to go into the NBA more prepared than what I was already. I felt like my skill set could be higher than what it was. I felt like I could be way better than I was in the post this previous season. I felt like going back to Louisville was the best move for me.”
As elated as Pitino was by Harrell’s decision, teams looking for a power forward in the middle of the draft were disappointed. He may lack the perceived upside of a Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon or Noah Vonleh, three freshmen power forwards who all went in the top 10 of the 2014 draft, but Harrell was poised to handle the transition to the NBA better than all three initially.
At 6’8, 240 lbs. with a 7’3 wingspan, great athleticism, above average quickness and a motor that never comes off of the highest gear, Harrell was one of the most NBA-ready prospects eligible for the draft. He would have made an impact from day one, especially on the glass and defensive end of the floor.
Defensively, Harrell is the equivalent to a premiere middle linebacker in football. He’s the leader on that end of the floor, constantly communicating with his teammates, making sure they know where to be and that he’s there to help them. His 1.3 blocks per game don’t indicate just how much of a force he is at deterring shots. Unlike some shot blockers who simply camp around the rim waiting for someone to attack them, Harrell is aggressive in contesting shots all over the floor.
At the 2014 adidas Nations camp, which features some of the top high school and college talent from across the globe, there were multiple occasions where his coaches were telling him to be careful. They were worried about how much he was hitting the floor and all the contact he was creating. However, Harrell doesn’t know any other way to play.
“I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder,” Harrell said. “There’s been a lot of guys ranked above me. I don’t criticize what the scouts have to say about my game, I just work. I use that as motivation for me. I go into every game with a chip on my shoulder. When I’m on the floor I feel like there’s nobody on this floor that’s going to outwork me.
“I’ve just been coming in here showing that I’m a hard worker. I play on both ends of the court. I’m not really out here to showcase or show coaches that I’ve been working on this or that, that’s going to come within the game. I’m not coming out here and impress the guys with things that I couldn’t do in my game before. I just come out here, play hard and try to do everything to put my team in a position to win.
“I’ve been working on my post moves a lot, a lot of different aspects of my game. I have showcased a couple of things here, putting the ball on the floor, getting to the basket. There’s a lot more of my game that hasn’t been shown.”
Expectations are going to be high for Harrell going into what will likely be his final year of college. He can’t just come in with the same 14 points and eight rebounds a game that he averaged last year if he’s going to improve his stock and crack the top 10 – the ideal result from his decision to stay an extra year.
That likely wouldn’t even be enough to keep Louisville in the mix for a national title. He has to take that next step forward in his development and become a featured option. The opportunity is there for him with the departure of Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, who averaged a combined 30.5 points a game last year, to carry a big load offensively.
Averaging closer to 20 points a game would do a lot for Harrell’s stock and have teams looking at him as more than just a hustle guy whose impact will be primarily on one side of the floor. His ultimate goal, though, is to walk away with his second national championship, and putting up Russ Smith numbers isn’t the key to achieving that.
“We gotta be that top defensive team,” Harrell said. “Offensively, we have guys who can score the ball at every position on the floor. We gotta be that defensive standout team, that team that [makes others say], ‘Hey it’s hard to score on Louisville. We’re going to Louisville we have to prepare for this, we have to prepare for the press, the halfcourt defense.’ We’ve got to be that defensive team.”
The decision to stay around an extra year has proven to be costly for a lot of NBA hopefuls like Harrell in the past. Yet, given the tenacity and effort he plays with, the situation waiting for him at Louisville and the fact that he’s beyond NBA ready, it’s hard not to feel like the odds are stacked in his favor for this decision to end up paying off for him.
Ballmer Officially Takes Over Clippers: The Los Angeles Clippers announced that the transaction in which Steve Ballmer purchased the Los Angeles Clippers closed today following the entry of an order by a California court confirming the authority of Shelly Sterling, on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, to sell the team.
The NBA Board of Governors previously approved the sale and Mr. Ballmer is now the Clippers Governor.
“I am humbled and honored to be the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers,” Mr. Ballmer said. “Clipper fans are so amazing. They have remained fiercely loyal to our franchise through some extraordinary times. I will be hard core in giving the team, our great coach, staff and players the support they need to do their best work on the court. And we will do whatever necessary to provide our fans and their families with the best game-night experience in the NBA. I look forward to meeting our fans at our STAPLES Center Fan Festival on Monday, Aug. 18 at 12:30 pm PT.”
“This is an amazing new day in Clippers history,” Clippers President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Doc Rivers said. “I couldn’t be more excited to work together with Steve as we continue to build a first-class, championship organization. I am already inspired by Steve’s passion for the game, his love of competition and desire to win the right way and I know our players and fans are going to be inspired as well.”
Ballmer, Doc Rivers and Clippers players will be in attendance at a Clippers Fan Festival that will be open to the general public on Monday, Aug. 18 at STAPLES Center at 12:30 p.m. PT.
P.J. Tucker Suspended: Phoenix Suns’ forward P.J. Tucker has been suspended three games without pay for pleading guilty to driving while under the extreme influence of intoxicating liquor, in violation of the law of the State of Arizona, the NBA announced today.
Tucker’s suspension will begin with the first game of the 2014-15 NBA regular season.
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