Even though his best friend, Francisco Garcia, isn't around to shag balls for him anymore, Taquan Dean still makes his regular late-night trips to Louisville's practice gym. Virtually every night at around midnight for the past three months Dean has let himself into the gym with his own key and, alone, unspooled at least 1,000 jump shots before heading back to his off-campus apartment for bed. He started the ritual three years ago with Garcia, who's now a rookie with the Sacramento Kings, and it helped Dean set a school record with 122 three-pointers last season--and has made him perhaps the best long-range gunner in the country this season.
"Every time I miss a shot, I tell myself, J.J. Redick would have made that," says Dean, a 6'3" guard who averaged 14.4 points and made 44.7% of his three-point attempts last season (compared with 40.3% for Redick). "I want to work harder than him and everybody else in the nation."
"I've never had a player improve as much between their junior and senior year as Taquan," says Louisville coach Rick Pitino. "He's worked his tail off this off-season, and his body is just chiseled now. I expect him to be an All-America and a Wooden Award candidate."
Last season Louisville made it to the Final Four, but with three starters from that team gone, Pitino will need Dean to play like an All-America if the Cardinals are to make another deep run. The team will also need a bigger contribution from 6'8" forward Juan Palacios, who averaged 9.7 points and 6.5 rebounds last season and was a top candidate for Conference USA's freshman of the year.
"We're going to be deeper this year," says Pitino, who has added five freshmen and two players coming off redshirt seasons, including David Padgett, a 6'11" transfer from Kansas. "At one point last year we were down to 6 1/2 players, which forced us to play a lot of zone. This year we're going to apply more defensive pressure and play a faster pace on offense."
The key to that offense is Dean. After gaining 15 pounds of muscle in the off-season to push his weight to 195, Dean plans to attack the rim when defenders try to crowd him at the three-point arc. "I'm still a jump shooter," says Dean, "but this year I'm going to be a jump shooter who's got an aggressive streak."
NEW YORK METRO AREA
Gotham native Rick Pitino has very successfully worked the recruiting hotbeds of NYC and New Jersey, getting Taquan Dean, Francisco García, and '06 signees Derrick Caracter, Earl Clark and Edgar Sosa.
Coach: Rick Pitino 2004-05 record: 33-5 (14-2, 1st in C-USA)
2005 tournament: Lost in Final Four to Illinois
Juan PALACIOS [RETURNING STARTER]
Taquan DEAN [RETURNING STARTER]
RETURNING STARTER *2003-04 STATS AT KANSAS ‚Ä†HIGH SCHOOL STATS
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
They're going to need their first-year guys to step up.... Brian Johnson [coming off an injury redshirt] will help, but he's a guy who will be at his best as a junior or senior.... On paper David Padgett is one of the best big guys in the country. He's even shooting threes now.... Pencil in Juan Palacios for 15 points and 10 rebounds every night. He's a great talent who has played in some big games.
¬†BIGGER AND BETTER
Dean added 15 pounds to his frame and burned the midnight oil working on his shot to prepare for his senior season.