LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Former Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino was never a fan of social media, but there's a new sheriff in town and Chris Mack has embraced technology, especially Twitter, where he has developed a steady - and popular - presence since taking over the U of L program.
So when Mack stepped to the podium during the sold-out Tipoff Luncheon in the grand ballroom of the Downtown Marriott Friday, pulled out his phone and began typing, the 1,200 fans sensed there was big news coming.
"Hold on one second," Mack said, silencing applause. "I'm telling you, technology, social media. I've got to tweet this out; some people are waiting on it - Uh oh, L's up."
That's his signature tweet when U of L has gotten a commitment from a recruit. Due to NCAA rules, Mack couldn't name the player, but the fans, many of whom follow recruiting closely on Twitter, Instagram and the Internet, roared their approval anyway.
There was good reason for the enthusiasm. The Cards had just landed a commitment from 6-10 Aidan Igiehon, a four-star center who is a native of Ireland and plays at Lawrence Woodmere Academy in New York. Strong and physical, he is No. 36 in ESPN's Top 100 and is rated the No. 8 power forward in the country in the 2019 recruiting class.
Igiehon had been a top priority for Mack's staff. The head coach traveled to Ireland last month to meet with Igiehon's mother, then hosted him for an official visit. Igiehon chose U of L over fellow finalists Kentucky, Oregon and St. John's.
"Coach Mack is just a winning guy," Igiehon told the Courier-Journal. "I think he turned a mediocre program at Xavier into a top-10 program. If he can do that at Xavier, just imagine what he can do at Louisville."
His commitment was Mack's sixth and boosted U of L's recruiting class to No. 2 in the nation, behind only Southern Cal. The Cards are the only team in the country to boast five four-star players in their 2019 class, which is a minor miracle considering the circumstances under which Mack has had to recruit.
Louisville is on NCAA probation and could possibly be facing more sanctions when the NCAA gets around to conducting its own investigation into the FBI's probe of corruption in college basketball. UofL was one of the schools front and center during the trial of alleged conspirators in New York City the past two weeks.
"I think you have to commend Chris Mack with the job he's done with this recruiting class," 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "They set out to fill needs at each position.
They got three top-50 to 60-level recruits. . .They had some disadvantages from a recruiting standpoint in dealing with stuff from over the past year. So the job that group has done from a recruiting standpoint is incredible. And adding Aidan is a big part of that."
During Media Day activities following the luncheon, Mack was asked if he has been surprised by the recruiting success.
"I wouldn't say surprised. Excited and pleased," he said. "Part of what our coaching staff tells recruits is we made that move. We put our money where our mouth was, we invested and jumped into this program with two feet. We wanted to be here. We want anybody we recruit to want to be a Cardinal, and not everybody wants to for a variety of reasons. Our assistant coaches have worked incredibly long hours and built so many lasting relationships have been rewarded, we've been rewarded."
Of Louisville's six commitments, five are ranked in the top 100 nationally, according to 247Sports. In addition to Igiehon, UofL has early commitments from Louisville Trinity guard David Johnson No. 72), Texas small forward Samuell Williamson (No. 45), North Carolina shooting guard Josh Nickelberry (No. 95), Cleveland power forward Jaelyn Withers (No. 86) and Huntington Prep (W. Va.) forard Quinn Slazinski.
Mack and his staff's sales pitch to recruits largely involved Louisville's tradition, potential and fan support -- what he calls "certanties."
"There are certainties with Louisville basketball," Mack said. "We have one of the best fan bases in the country. Kids feel that when they come in. And I've said it a million times: Our arena - I've played and coached in a lot of places - it's as good as any in the country.
"Our schedule, the ACC, if you want to play against the best players in the country, I don't know what measuring stick you want to use - NBA players, Hall of Fame coaches, games on ESPN, whatever you want to do - it's the best basketball in the country. And so, however people want to speculate on what's coming down the pike, those are certainties. Those are certainties that I think kids gravitate to."
Mack also emphasized that he isn't concerned at this point about any future NCAA penalties that could be in store for his program.
"The only thing I am worried about is the season opener," he said. "There are a lot of unknowns and everyone loves to speculate. It's 2018, everyone has an opinion. As soon as something comes out, he's got an opinion, and then 'No, that opinion is wrong.' So everyone likes to speculate on what is going to happen. We are just going to let everything play out, as the NCAA is going to do as well. Maybe then we will worry about it, but I have zero concern about it right now."
EAGER TO SEE PLAYERS IN ACTION
Fans and the media will get their first look at Mack's new team in the annual Red-White intrasquad scrimmage Sunday at 2 p.m. in the KFC Yum! Center. It will be something of an education for the new coach, too.
"I want them to be the same team we talk about and that we work on in practice every single day," Mack said. "Just because fans are in the stands now and people are cheering, it doesn't mean it manifests itself in bad shots, in bad decisions, in not being in the right place defensively.
"I just want to see the same team. You have to be the same player, the same team every single time you step on the floor, so each teammate knows who the heck he's playing with and the coaching staff knows who they're coaching. That's what I'm really looking forward to, because there's guys who maybe go outside of that. That's okay, that's part of the growth, but that's what I'm looking for."
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college basketball and football for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.