clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Louisville Update: Kenny Payne And Nolan Smith Are Getting Louisville Back On Track

And it might be quicker than anyone expects

Syndication: The Courier-Journal
 U of L head coach Kenny Payne reacts to a busted play against Virginia during their game at the Yum Center in Louisville, Ky. on Feb. 15, 2023.
Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

When Louisville hired Kenny Payne, big things were expected from him so last season’s 4-28 stinker was a major shock. How bad was it?

Bad enough where people speculated he might not get to Year Two.

Part of it was he inherited a mediocre team anyway, at best, and another part of it was the possibility of a major NCAA penalty, possibly even the death penalty, made it hard to recruit high school players or even to go transfer fishing in the portal.

Payne and his ace assistant, former Blue Devil Nolan Smith, have recruited well this year though and the roster is almost entirely overhauled.

Mike James is back, as is JJ Traynor. Big man Brandon Huntley-Hatfield is back as is Emmanuel Okorafor. So is Hercy Miller. The son of rapper Master P, Hercy is not likely to be a major factor but he’s still a valuable teammate because of his attitude and effort.

Skyy Clark and Tre White could both start and former Hurricane Danilo Jovanovich should be healthy. Koron Davis is a JUCO who many think could be a great addition.

Toss in high schoolers Trentyn Flowers (6-8), Dennis Evans, (7-1), Kaleb Glenn (6-6) and Curtis Williams (6-6) and the Cards are almost certainly greatly improved.

However, they’re also in the running for former Duke commit Mackenzie Mgbako, and you have to assume that Smith recruited him for Duke and knows him well. And as we know, Smith is a formidable recruiter.

Even without Mgbako though, Louisville looks like a team modeled on what Payne was part of when he played for Cards legend Denny Crum: it’s an athletic, versatile group with tall guards (as opposed to Rick Pitino’s love of smaller guards) that is going to run on offense and work hard on defense.

It may not be next year, and relevance has to come first. But the Cards have a path back to the Top 25 now, and that’s a welcome change from last season. We want Duke to be best of course, but we want every ACC team to be good. It helps everyone.