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Who would go on U of L’s basketball Mt. Rushmore?
By Dalton Ray–
The University of Louisville has one of the nation’s most historic basketball programs. Similarly to the football Mt. Rushmore, it’s difficult to pick four of the most impactful players in program history. To make things easier, we’ve only included players who played from 2000 to present.
Reece Gaines, guard (1999-2002)
Gaines played under both coach Denny Crum and coach Rick Pitino but is remembered as Pitino’s first star player. Gaines averaged 21 points a game as a junior with 3.9 rebounds a game. During his senior season, Gaines led Louisville to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The second round showing was the first since the 1996-1997 season and first NCAA tournament under the Pitino era. Former Marquette star and NBA All-Star Dwayne Wade said Gaines was the best player he played in college.
Gaines dropped his points per game average in his final season to 17.9 but upped his assist average to a career-high five a game. A first round selection in the 2003 NBA draft, Gaines should be recognized as a player who laid the foundation for Cardinals today. Now pursuing a coaching career, Gaines is fourth all-time in scoring, third in made 3-pointers and seventh in assists.
Francisco Garcia, guard/forward (2002-2004)
Garcia took the reigns from Gaines and averaged double-digits his entire career. Garcia led U of L to their second straight tournament appearance his sophomore season averaging 16.4 points and 4.7 assists. While his stats may have taken a slight hit in his junior season, Garcia made U of L history in the 2003-2004 season. Alongside Larry O’Bannon, Garcia led the Cardinals to their first Final Four in 19 years.
Garcia is the only player on this list that didn’t stay all four years. He was on track to crack top 10 in career points, free throws made and assists before forgoing his senior year. Garcia is tied for eighth in program history for made 3-pointers and holds the record for most assists in a game with 15. Garica will be remembered for leading the Cardinals back to the promise land and made a clear impact on the program.
Terrence Williams, forward (2005-2008)
For anyone under the age of 25, Williams was the first showtime player to put on a Louisville uniform. Easily one of the most athletic players in program history, Williams was a fan favorite during his time as a Cardinal. Known for his high-flying dunks and flashy play, Williams ended his career wit a 103-38 record and played in two Elite Eights. Williams was one of the most lethal Cardinals on a fast break, never shying away from a windmill dunk to entertain the crowd.
A member of the 1,000-point club, Williams averaged double-digits his final three years. Williams and Earl Clark led the 2008-2009 team to a 31-6 record, a Big East Championship and a one-seed in the NCAA tournament. The Seattle native is third all-time in assists and seventh in both rebounds and steals. Williams is still one of the most recognizable Cardinals in program history and few players had a more successful four years as a Cardinal.
Russ Smith, guard (2010-2013)
One of the few players that could challenge Williams’ career success is Smith. Nicknamed “Russdiculous” by Pitino, Smith walked away with a 121-31 record, two Final Four appearances, a national championship and three conference championships. Like Williams, fans fell in love with Smith’s big smile and unorthodox style of play. Like the three players listed before him, Smith was an All-American. As a senior, Smith was tabbed a first-team All-American by the Associated Press, CBS Sports, NBC Sports and multiple others.
Smith led Louisville in scoring during his final two seasons and is arguably the most explosive offensive player in the Pitino era. Smith is behind Gaines on the all-time scoring list with 1,908 career points. Known for getting to the free throw line, Smith is second all-time in free throws made. In addition to his top-notch offense, Smith’s defense ability wasn’t far off. Harassing opposing guards for his entire career, Smith is Louisville’s all-time lead in steals.
Taqwa Pinero, formerly known as Taquan Dean, guard (2002-2005)
Earl Clark, forward (2006-2008)
Peyton Siva, guard (2009-2012)
Gorgui Dieng, center (2010-2012)
By Conner Farrell–
Siva should replace Gaines on the Mt. Rushmore. Gaines is undoubtedly one of the most talented scorers that has played at U of L. Siva, on the other hand, was a true leader for the team whenever he was on the court. Manning the point guard position, Siva was the engine that made the team go. He was a two-time MVP in the Big East Tourney, one of only two players to have that honor. Siva’s success in the Final Four and national championship gives him the slight nod.
Graphic by Mitchell Howes / The Louisville Cardinal