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Louisville's top recruit flipped to Kentucky, but Cards still landed stellar class

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 11/20/2020 Ben Roberts, Lexington Herald-Leader

It hasn’t been the smoothest of basketball recruiting cycles for the Louisville Cardinals, but, so far, it’s been a fruitful one.

Coach Chris Mack lost his biggest commitment for the class of 2021 when highly touted small forward Bryce Hopkins backed off his pledge to the Cards over the summer. To make that matter worse, Hopkins ultimately committed to rival Kentucky.

U of L still landed its share of talented prospects, however, and Mack’s program exited this week’s early signing period with the No. 10 recruiting class in the country, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

The Cards signed a total of five players in the early period: center Roosevelt Wheeler, small forward Mike James, point guard Bobby Pettiford, small forward Eric Van der Heijden, and junior college combo guard El Ellis.

Wheeler — a 6-foot-10 post player from Richmond, Va — is the most recent addition to the Cardinals’ class after a Monday night commitment, and he’s their top-rated early signee, coming in at No. 60 overall in the 247Sports composite rankings. Rivals.com ranks him No. 42 nationally.

“Roosevelt is a load,” Mack said in a release this week. “He has ability, but the one thing that sticks out about Rose is his motor and his toughness. He is not afraid to put his nose in a scrum. His agility for his size will be an asset in the ACC. He has an ability to score, command a double-team and rebound the ball.”

Wheeler averaged 11.9 rebounds and 4.3 blocked shots per game as a junior. Earlier this week, Rivals.com national analyst Rob Cassidy highlighted his ability to be a difference-maker defensively.

“Wheeler’s impact on the defensive end is undeniable,” Cassidy wrote. “He regularly changes shots and is an absolute nightmare for the opposition on the glass.”

Ellis, one of four future Cards to sign with the school last Wednesday, is a 6-3 combo guard at Tallahassee Community College, and he’s ranked as the No. 1 junior college prospect nationally for the 2021 recruiting cycle. He made 40.3 percent of his three-point shots last season.

“El is an extremely gifted scorer who has the ability to play both on and off the ball,” Mack said. “Coming from the junior college ranks, he has competed against older competition throughout his time. He is quick, shifty and has the ability to shoot the three.”

James — a 6-6 prospect from Orlando — is the No. 105 overall player in the 2021 composite rankings. He averaged 18.5 points per game as a junior last season.

“Mike is a worker,” Mack said. “Every coach who’s had the pleasure of coaching Mike raves about his work ethic. If he has a 6 a.m. workout, Mike is there at 5:45 a.m. with his laces tied every time. As a player, he continues to evolve. He has a quick first step and has continued to become a better shooter during high school. We feel Mike can be a lockdown defender in time, given his athleticism, size and approach to work.”

Pettiford — a 6-1 playmaker from North Carolina — averaged 21.8 points, 7.4 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.9 steals as last season, leading his high school team to a 30-1 record. He’s the No. 18 point guard in the 247Sports composite rankings.

“Bobby Pettiford is an explosive athlete,” Mack said. “His ability to get into the lane will make the game easier for his teammates. Bobby plays with no fear and a lot of toughness.”

Van der Heijden — a uniquely skilled, 6-9 small forward from Raleigh, N.C. — made 45 percent of his three-point attempts last season. He’s No. 192 nationally, according to the 2021 composite rankings.

“The first thing that sets Eric apart is his ability to shoot the ball from deep,” said Mack. “We want to continually add players to our roster that help create space on the floor because of that special ability. Eric also has tremendous vision and understands the game of basketball. Both of his parents played professionally, which I’m sure has helped in his development. His size and skill level make Eric very unique.”

Obviously, there are a handful of uncommitted players at the top of the 2021 rankings, and their decisions will help shape the final team recruiting standings for this cycle. But it’s clear that Mack has put together a well-balanced class that should ultimately be ranked among the best in the country.

Louisville Crystal Ball?

The Cardinals could be getting more good news in the near future.

There’s been a recent run of prominent Crystal Ball predictions in Louisville’s favor for Indianapolis wing player Tae Davis, the No. 134 overall player in the 2022 composite rankings. Davis has early scholarship offers from Indiana, Purdue and other high-major programs.

Several picks have been logged on Davis’ Crystal Ball page over the past few weeks — all in favor of Louisville — including predictions from national analysts Eric Bossi and Jerry Meyer.

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©2020 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

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