On April 14, Montrezl Harrell texted coach Rick Pitino, saying that he wanted to enter the NBA draft. Two hours later Harrell changed his mind. In those 120 minutes Louisville went from being a bubble team back to being a Final Four contender. The Cardinals' forward, who was named first team All-AAC last season, after averaging 14.0 points and 8.4 rebounds, is that good—and he's worked to get better. In the off-season he put himself through lonely, late-night workouts in Louisville's practice facility, perfecting his ballhandling and midrange jumper. Though he made just two three-pointers last season, Harrell was 7 for 18 from behind the arc in the Cardinals' three preseason intrasquad scrimmages. "I'm still going to stick to what I do best, which is finishing around the rim," he says. "But I'm going to be able to step away and take people off the bounce too. That's going to help our team out a lot more." This team needs his help. Senior swingman Wayne Blackshear and senior point guard Chris Jones are experienced, but seven freshmen will vie for minutes off the bench. It will be difficult for Pitino to unleash his trademark full-court pressure, so Louisville needs to be effective in its half-court offense. That's why Harrell's return, as well as his evolution, matters so much
With 2014--15 Projected Stats
ROUND OF 64
TELLING NUMBER +6.7
Average turnover margin for the Cardinals in 2013--14, which led the nation. Louisville also had the largest scoring margin (+19.9), and the Cardinals are the only team to rank among the top 10 in steals in each of the last four seasons.
DAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
Harrell's 97 dunks set a school record.