LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Life is changing drastically for Louisville basketball coach Chris Mack and football coach Scott Satterfield -- along with their peers nationwide -- and they can't wait to get started more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic turned their worlds upside down, altering their recruiting and preseason training.
Although the NCAA and its member schools held thousands of games, practices and a national tournament this past season as the coronavirus continued to rage, in-person recruiting has been forbidden since March 13, 2020, the day after the NCAA canceled its men's and women's basketball tournaments and championships in other sports.
Coaches have been allowed to call and write to prospects and their parents during what is known in college sports as a "dead period," but they have been barred from meeting with them, attending games or visiting high schools to protect coaches, current players and prospective players. Coaches were forced to woo recruits through texting, calling, FaceTiming and Zooming. Campus visits, of course, were prohibited.
That all changed Tuesday, with the NCAA allowing a return to in-person recruiting and the resumption of other team-related activities.
"Not only is it important, but it's also amazing to be able to meet people face-to-face. We're excited," Mack said during his most recent press conference while looking ahead to a return to semi-normal. "The facilities we have, the resources -- to show somebody the Yum! Center on a Zoom call just isn't very fun. And to now have the ability to jump in a car and follow us over, show them the locker room, walk around the court, see the enormity of the building -- just walking around anywhere on campus, sitting down with a family, you name it.
"It's really hard to build relationships if you never meet people except virtually. That's what our staff, and I'm sure hundreds of other staffs around the country, are looking forward to June 1."
According to Jody Demling of 247Sports, the first known recruit making an unofficial visit is Christian Academy guard George Washington on Tuesday. North Laurel guard Reed Sheppard is scheduled for a visit later this week. Coaches in other sports will also be hosting prospects on official and unofficial visits as well as holding camps as the spring and summer progress.
During the last two weekends in June evaluation periods will resume, enabling coaches to evaluate players in off-campus environments such as showcase camps and tournaments. Mack will do that with two new staff members -- Kahil Fennell and Ross McMains -- along with returning assistant Mike Pegues.
All of the Cardinals were expected to arrive back on campus by Memorial Day, then undergo physicals to be cleared for workouts before the start of activities permitted by the NCAA next week. Mack said all his players are vaccinated and masks are no longer required.
"I think back to when our guys got to campus last summer," Mack said. "Guys like D'Andre Davis, JJ Traynor and Gabe Wiznitzer, and they were in masks and nobody could oversee their lifting and nobody could work with them on the court. It was sad. Their development was hampered. Moving forward, I feel like we're in a great spot and we're excited about it."
The NCAA will allow coaches to designate eight hours a week for eight weeks. No more than four of those hours per week can be on a basketball court, but Mack can use non-court hours for any number of things, like weight-room work and conditioning.
"If you want to do two two-hour team practices throughout the week, you can do that," Mack said. "If you want to go four one-hour practices, you can do that. You can do individual workouts. So we will do a little bit of hybrid. We'll have sessions where we work with two or three players and then we'll have sessions where the whole team comes in. That's be sort of the way we'll do it throughout the summer."
Louisville's current 2021-22 roster includes 12 scholarship players on 11 scholarships since Malik Williams is using an extra year granted by the NCAA because of the pandemic.
Others are Davis, Traynor, Wiznitzer, Samuell Williamson, Jae'Lyn Withers, along with transfers Matt Cross (Miami) and Noah Locke (Florida), grad transfer Jarrod West (Marshall), JUCO star El Ellis and true freshmen Mike James and Roosevelt Wheeler.
Like Mack, Satterfield has been chomping at the bit to start seeing recruts in person again. He and his staff will host at least 15 2022 prospects on official visits later this month, as well as others on unofficial visits, and will have six elite camps loaded with prospects.
"We can't wait to show all this stuff off," Satterfield said in reference to UofL's facilities. "It's going to be great for us to get them on campus, and to be around us, and to see what we have to offer. We're excited about that. We've lined up a bunch of players and families in June and we'll probably have players in here every day throughout the month, not only camp but every other day in between."
FURMAN ADDED TO SCHEDULE
UofL has added Furman to its 2021-22 basketball schedule after the game was canceled last year when the number of non-conference contests were reduced due to the coronavirus.
Other known Cardinal non-conference games for next season are trips to Kentucky and Cincinnati, along with the Empire Classic that also includes Gonzaga, Providence and Oklahoma State. UofL will face two of those teams.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org