By Beau Kilpatrick—
Louisville native Ray Spalding is prepared for round two of his men’s basketball career under coach Rick Pitino.
Cardinal fans saw glimmers of hope for the 6-foot-10 forward last season. Spalding displayed bursts of fierceness on the defensive side of the ball and stretched the opposition with his offensive versatility.
Spalding blocked 20 shots in the 2015-16 season and he raked in 28 steals. His interior dominance awarded him 130 rebounds last season. However, he only scored double-digits five times out of the 30 games he played.
History has shown that most players make their biggest improvements between freshman and sophomore years. Pitino’s grueling conditioning program and difficult practices should have Spalding at peak performance when the season starts.
The No. 13 Cardinals have the potential to put together a great run this season. The return of all but three players makes this group stronger and more experienced than most. Spalding’s ability to stretch the offense, along with his interior defense, will be a key element in Louisville’s success.
With Chinanu Onuaku now in the NBA, Louisville is missing a big body in the middle of the defense. Spalding has to play bigger to fill that spot.
An important stat for Pitino and his staff is the amount of deflections players have. One of Pitino’s favorite characteristics of Spalding’s game is his active hands and ability to get in the passing lane of opposing players.
Spalding will be battling for starting spot with Jaylen Johnson, but Spalding will get his minutes no matter what. The sophomore put up similar numbers as Johnson in his first year as a Cardinal.
Spalding had his ups and downs during the Cardinals’ first exhibition game against Kentucky Wesleyan College.
His defense was impressive in the 19 minutes of playing time. He gathered four rebounds, blocked two shots and forced two steals. Spalding shot the ball effectively with 66 percent from the field. He made four of his six shots for eight points.
However, ball security remains an area where Spalding needs improvement. He committed four turnovers, more than any other Cardinal.
Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal