By Annie Moore–
Ray Spalding shone in Louisville’s 89-61 rout of the University of North Florida. After a couple of games with more conservative contributions, Spalding played 31 minutes, his most as a Cardinal. In that time, the freshman added 18 points, 12 rebounds, 12 deflections and four steals. His double-double was a shock to many, but not to head coach Rick Pitino, who has been touting Spalding’s potential for months.
“I knew Ray was a special basketball player from the time we recruited him,” Pitino said. “Most people in this town didn’t know it. When you look at skills, wingspan, the way they run, the way he can pass and his mind for the game, it’s pretty incredible. For a 6-9 guy to run like that, wow.”
Anyone in town who didn’t believe in the Trinity product was made aware on Saturday afternoon.
Spalding had several dunks much to the crowd’s excitement, and made 80 percent of his shots, on eight of 10 shooting. The freshman made his first six shots of the game. Pitino noted during his discussion of Spalding postgame, that he almost wound up playing for one of Louisville’s ACC rivals.
“It’s interesting,” Pitino said. “Fortunately for us, Duke found out too late because they made a real big push. But if it wasn’t for his mom being so loyal to us, he could’ve visited other places, but his mom told him he was going to Louisville and Ray said he wanted to go to Louisville.”
Spalding averaged eight minutes and just over three rebounds in the first two games of the 2015-16 season, and had a bismal performance from the charity stripe in the Hartford game, making just one of his five attempts. Both of those changed on Saturday, as Spalding was perfect from the free throw line and doubled his average rebounds.
During his postgame remarks in the locker room it was evident that the rest of his team took note, and was happy for him. As Spalding was surrounded by the media swarm, his teammates all cheered and teased as the young man tried to make his remarks, through the biggest beaming smile in the room.
“It was a little surprising,” Spalding said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates though. I think I played pretty well. Coach told me to really focus in on defense and I think I did that tonight.”
Pitino and Spalding both noted that this team has a different attitude than the swagger normally associated with Louisville basketball. This team, as they both noted, is full of humble, selfless players who are focused on the team. Spalding displayed this, as well as an almost resistance to talk to the media about his own performace.
“I’m alright with media,” Spalding said. “I’m a little shy when it comes to the media. I don’t want to say that I hide from you all, I just take long showers to avoid it.”
Young guys like Spalding as well as fifth-year transfers and veterans on the team have helped foster a humble, supportive culture, ready to produce and let their basketball talk. That team emerged from the half and put on what coach Pitino called one of the best halves of basketball he’s seen in his time as a coach at Louisville.
The Cardinals held the Ospreys to 28 percent shooting in the second half, and just two made three-pointers. This was huge, as North Florida hung around in the first half partly due to nine three-pointers. As the Cardinals amped up defensive pressure, so did Spalding, and the offensive production followed directly. It was impossible to ignore the big freshman looking like a veteran on both ends of the court.
“Well, I think this was quite unusual for a freshman,” Pitino said. “Every day in practice, Ray is the high man on deflections. You know, you would like to get anywhere from five to seven or eight deflections from an individual player – that’s a very active player. He had 12 today. Besides that stat line, he had 12 deflections today. From the way he gets in the passing lanes, his wingspan and his quickness — it’s truly incredible and I’m really proud of him.”