Cards land Florida transfer Locke to help outside shooting

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- In discussing the areas his Louisville basketball team needed to shore up during the offseason, one of the top priorities emphasized by coach Chris Mack was outside shooting.


Simply put, the Cardinals' three-point shooting during their 13-7 campaign this past season was dreadful. Their 30.8 percent marksmanship, if it can be called that, was one of the worst in program history and ranked 297th out of 340 Division I teams. Their scoring average of 68.0 points per game was also among the lowest in modern history. 


"We need to improve the 3-point shooting, there's no question," Mack said in his postseason press conference. "We have to find the guys (in the transfer portal) that can really help this team do the things that we want to do."


And Mack has done just that. With a commitment from sharpshooting Florida guard Noah Locke Sunday, UofL has mined the transfer portal for three players who should significantly improve its perimeter attack. The other two, previously announced, are forward Matt Cross from Miami and guard Jarrod West, a grad transfer from Marshall. All three shot better than 40 percent or better from beyond the arc this past season.


Locke may wind up being the most productive of the trio. He averaged 10.6 points last season as a junior with the Gators and has two years of eligibility remaining due to the pandemic. Locke finished his Florida career ranked ninth all-time with 217 three-pointers and eighth in attempts with 538.


Locke said numerous schools contacted him after he put his name in the transfer portal nearly three weeks ago, including three to four from every major conference. He chose Louisville over finalists Providence, Connecticut, North Carolina and Oregon largely because of his relationship with Mack, who recruited him at Xavier.


"I felt a great vibe from the coaches (at Xavier)," Locke told The Courier-Journal. "That was the biggest thing with my commitment (to Louisville). I was trying to get a good relationship with the coach and somewhere I could get the opportunity I was looking for. I felt Louisville was a great opportunity for me and with Coach Mack, it was the best position I could put myself. I wanted to play for someone who believed in my skill and allowed me to expand my game."


The 6-foot-3 Baltimore native averaged 2.4 made 3-pointers per game, while starting 79 of 92 games at Florida, including 24 of 25 last season when he shot 40.4 percent from distance. He scored 17 points in the Gators' NCAA Tournament loss to Oral Roberts.


"I feel like I bring toughness, I bring leadership," Locke told the C-J. "I've been in college for three years and know a lot within the college game. My scoring ability, too; obviously, I can shoot really well. I feel like I can score in other ways, which I will be able to show once I get there. I just feel like overall I bring a lot to the team with my leadership, toughness and urge to win."


As for the other two, Cross hit 20-of-50 three-pointers for 40.0 percent and West connected on 40.8 percent (42-103). West is a career 37.9 percent shooter from long range. UofL also has two other recruits who shot over 40 percent from outside last season and should add extra scoring punch to its stagnant offfense -- JUCO point guard El Ellis, who shot 41.7 during his sophomore year at Tallahassee Community College, and wing Michael James, who connected on 43.5% during his senior year at Oak Ridge (Fla.).


Compare the marks of the newcomers to those of Louisville's seven players who are confirmed to return next season. Samuell Williamson, Quinn Slazinski, J.J. Traynor, Dre Davis, Gabe Wiznitzer, Jae'Lyn Withers and Malik Williams combined to shoot just 27.8 percent on three-point attempts last season. If Cross, West and Locke's totals are added, it soars to 35.9, which would have been good for 75th in D1.


UofL has now filled all 13 of its scholarships, but the roster is still in a state of flux because potential NBA draftee David Johnson has not indicated his plans and Carlik Jones' future depends on draft feedback.


UofL announced Saturday that Jones will test the NBA Draft waters but retain his collegiate eligibility so the standout grad transfer guard could potentially return for a second season after leading the Cards in scoring at 16.8 ppg.


"It has always been my dream to be in the NBA and play on the biggest stage possible," Jones said in a statement. "After talking to my parents and loved ones, I have decided to enter my name into the 2021 NBA draft process and see where this road takes me. While still maintaining my eligibility as a Cardinal, I want to keep all of my options open. Thank you again, Cardinal Nation, for all of your unyielding support this past year. Cardinal for life! L’s Up."

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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