- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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It’s not often you see a recruit commit to a school the August before his freshman fall, but that’s exactly what Louisville got this week. Six-foot-10 center Mangok Mathiang, an IMG Academy product, committed to the Cardinals this week, according to IMG coach Loren Jackson’s announcement to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
What does the commitment mean, exactly? It’s hard to say. Mathiang doesn’t have a large recruiting profile, but what information is available about him lists him as a three-star prospect. Jackson told the Courier-Journal that Mathiang’s eligibility may be an issue, that “we think there’s some things we’ve got to take care of, but he’ll be there when school starts.” Louisville hasn’t announced the signing yet, likely because it is waiting on paperwork. But with the eligibility issue, you never know.
If Mathiang is able to play at Louisville this season, he will almost certainly be used sparingly. The Cardinals already have one of the more daunting frontcourts in the country returning for 2012–13, including power forward Chane Behanan and center Gorgui Dieng, as well as likely reserve Montrezl Harrell, a top–100 recruit who rescinded his Virginia Tech commitment when former coach Seth Greenberg was fired. At best, Mathiang’s best case as a freshman is as another body, more depth, somewhere to go to pick up a few fouls in the first half of a particularly physical, defensive game.
Far more promising for Louisville in 2012–13 is the continued development of sophomore shooting guard Kevin Ware. Ware was a disappointment for the Cardinals as a freshman. He didn’t become eligible until December, and when he did his minutes were nearly as limited as his effectiveness. But Ware is apparently turning over a new leaf in this all-important summer. Last week, Louisville coach Rick Pitino told the Courier-Journal that if the season began today, Ware would be his starting shooting guard, the product of an intense reconfiguration of Ware’s jump-shot mechanics in the newly approved summer workout sessions.
“What we do basically is we show them the perfect jump shot, which is Ray Allen with his legs, with his form and technique,” Pitino said. “We put it on a split screen with theirs, and the timing is the same. It shows their mistakes, and we go out and work on it.”
Ware, who often shot the ball from too close to his head, had no problem admitting his jumper was all wrong. That’s why he says he’ll have no problem sticking to his new form instead of reverting to the old way.
“I’m shooting a higher percentage,” he said. “I kind of look at me as one of the best shooters on the team now, and that’s a big leap. In high school I was probably one of the poorest shooters. I was just playing off athleticism, but now I’m a pretty good shooter.”
If that progress is real, it’s a major boon to the Cardinals' backcourt. Louisville was a poor shooting team last season to begin with, making just 31.8 percent of its 3s (good for 270th in the country) and posting a 47.3 percent effective field goal percentage. It lost its two best perimeter shooters, guards Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith, to graduation. Returning guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith have distinct strengths -- namely quickness, the ability to penetrate, mid-range touch and stifling, full-court man defense -- but neither of them are remotely close to consistent from beyond the arc.
If Ware becomes a knockdown long-range shooter, he could morph one of the most important offensive pieces on a team that desperately needs more consistent scoring to go along with its baseline expectation of brutish defense. Considering he played just 105 minutes as a freshman, and finished the season 0-for–5 from 3, that’s a big leap to expect. But if it happens, look out. The Cardinals have a Final Four-worthy team already, and they’re still adding help.