Pitino encouraged about hoops program as NCAA decision looms

Louisville's head coach Rick Pitino argues a call with a game official during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame, Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Coach Rick Pitino got some good news while Louisville awaits its fate after an NCAA investigation into the men’s basketball program.

Forward Deng Adel has decided to return to school, withdrawing from consideration in the upcoming NBA draft. The 6-foot-7 junior could help the program weather the aftermath of any penalties along with a bigger-than-expected roster turnover.

Pitino and school officials met last month with the governing body’s Committee on Infractions to answer allegations that former Cardinals men’s basketball staffer Andre McGee hired escort Katina Powell and other dancers for sex parties in the team’s dormitory from 2010-14. Louisville faces four violations, including one against Pitino for failing to monitor McGee.

The NCAA’s decision is expected in early June. After frequently addressing the matter before, Pitino declined to answer several questions on Tuesday but described the hearing as “one of the most difficult days, and I don’t want to relive any of those hours.”

Pitino’s outlook for next season is more upbeat knowing one of his main veterans is back to lead the Cardinals.

Louisville (25-9) lost leading scorer Donovan Mitchell (15.6 points) and forward Jaylen Johnson to the NBA Draft, while 6-11 Mangok Mathiang and fifth-year senior guard Tony Hicks graduated. Seven-foot reserve Matz Stockman also transferred to Minnesota to play for Pitino’s son, Richard.

Adel was an alternate invitee to the NBA combine in Chicago and mulled his options with a Wednesday deadline looming for underclassmen on whether to stay in the talent pool or return to school. Louisville’s third-leading scorer last season (12.1 points, 4.5 rebounds) ultimately chose to come back, and his coach is eager to see how he applies what he learned from workouts with seven NBA clubs.

“They (scouts) were impressed with his length, they were impressed with his athleticism,” Pitino said of Adel, whom he plans to pair in the backcourt with senior point guard Quentin Snider.

“He has all the components to be a pro. He just has to work on a few skills. … He’s going to go work on that, and he’s coming back for the right reasons.”

Pitino will stress defensive improvement for Snider, who averaged 12.4 points and had a team-high 115 assists despite missing six games with a hip injury.

The coach also to plans to emphasize growth for holdovers such as guard V.J. King, forward Ray Spalding and 7-footer Anas Mahmoud — whose inside presence improved last season but remains a work in progress. At least weight is less of an issue for the lanky Egyptian, who Pitino said is nearing 230 pounds after struggling to get bigger since his arrival.

The next step is getting Mahmoud to throw it around consistently in the middle.

“Anas is a little bit like a rollercoaster both in practice as well as games,” Pitino said, “and I’ve always felt like it’s a lack of strength.

“Our goal by the time we start practice is for him to be 235 and maintain it. … You’ll see a much stronger and better defensive rebounder.”

Pitino also expects more participation from signees such as 6-11 Malik Williams, 6-8 Lance Thomas and 6-2 Darius Perry. Former UNC Asheville guard Dwayne Sutton, a Louisville native, is also eligible after sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules.

No matter how the NCAA investigation ends, Pitino is encouraged about Louisville’s recruiting and progress. For now, he looks forward to seeing how new faces blend with familiar ones who are eager to embrace new roles.

Said Pitino, “We’ve got a lot of players coming back who are highly motivated.”

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