Montrezl Harrell is a Houston Rocket

There’s no photo yet of Montrezl Harrell on the team’s website, but the former University of Louisville power forward is officially on the roster of the Houston Rockets today.

Thus begins his career in the National Basketball Association.

Montrezl Harrell
Montrezl Harrell

Despite being drafted in the second round, Harrell’s future with the Rockets had been in limbo for a few weeks because Houston was near the ceiling on the team’s salary cap. According to the House of Houston, “the Rockets would have to convince him to sign for the minimum salary of about $507,500 which is definitely something the team can afford.”

The Rockets didn’t get off that easily, however. Harrell was signed for a three-year deal worth $3.1 million, ESPN reported Friday. He also signed a contract with Nike.

During Las Vegas summer league action, Harrell averaged 16.5 points and eight rebounds in four contests, including a showing of 24 points and 12 rebounds (10 offensive) against the Philadelphia 76ers in the final game.

He will be remembered by UofL fans for his enthusiasm following all of those monstrous dunks, completing a record 221 slams during his three seasons at Louisville. The most memorable of all of them coming against Michigan in that 2013 national championship game, soaring from the free throw line, throttling a national TV audience.

Harrell was represented in the negotiations by Rich Paul, the same agent who represents Lebron James.

Montrezl Harrell earns Karl Malone Award

Montrezl Harrell has been selected as the recipient of the inaugural Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award presented by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

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Harrell averaged 15.7 points (eighth in the ACC), 9.2 rebounds (second in the Atlantic Coast Conference, 32nd in the nation) and shooting 56.6 percent from the field (third in the ACC, 22nd in the nation).

He was a driving force behind the University of Lousville’s 27-9 record and reaching the school’s fifth NCAA Elite Eight in the past eight years.

Malone presented the award to Harrell at the ESPN College Basketball Awards in Los Angeles on Friday night in a live presentation on ESPN2.

Over for Louisville, end for Blackshear and Harrell

Wayne Blackshear 3-29-15 copy

Wayne Blackshear leaves the floor for the last time, the cotton wad still plugging his right nostril, his jersey covered with red stains, having played on of his better games in a University of Louisville basketball uniform. He wanted this one badly.

Wrapping up a career that included participation in a national championship, two Final Fours, two Elite Eights, and four Sweet Sixteen’s. He was reaching his potential at the right time, going out with 28 points in his final game.

Even his best wasn’t good enough, with UofL managing only six field goals after the first half. The Cardinals had made  17 of 32 attempts during the first 20 minutes.  The scoring drought a recipe for disaster, opening the door for Michigan State’s 76-70 overtime win in the final game of the NCAA’s East Region.

— Montrezl Harrell looking beaten and battered, still feeling the effects of a second half in which he appeared to tire, lacking that familiar aggression, struggling with shots he had been making all season long. He had been making it look easy in the first half, raising his dunk total to more than 220 during his career.

Harrell was clearly fatigued, missing his final five shots while making only five of nine free throw attempts for the day. He collected most of 16 points in the first half. Thirty-nine minutes was a long, long time in this game. One has to wonder whether he would have welcomed more relief from Jaylen Johnson.

Harrell will not be remembered for his last game, however. He had a decision to make after last season — go pro or return to UofL. That decision made Louisville a contender in the ACC and the NCAA this season. Setting the standard for all future Louisville forwards with all those power moves around the basket.

— Terry Rozier collecting the majority of his 13 ponts on break away lay ups after steals. Michigan State was clearly prepared for him. And UofL appeared to lose confidence in the offense that got the team to this point, forcing Rozier to sling a few shots at the basket, which rarely works well.

— Mangok Mathiang missing a tip that could have won it for UofL with 3.2 seconds left. Then bouncing a free throw in to get to overtime, unable to hit the second try that could have sent UofL to another Final Four. If ever anyone should be motivated going into during the summer it should be Mangok.

— Quentin Snyder making a rare mistake, giving up the ball, with time running out in the overtime. Give him credit, however, for accepting the challenge after Chris Jones’ departure, accepting the challenge, playing a key role in Louisville’s surprising run during the tournament. The experience will be invaluable as he continues to develop over his career.

The season ends just short of an 11th appearance in the Final Four. An impressive start during the first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, reaffirming the tradition of excellence that is University of Louisville basketball.

Louisville in a groove, dispatches Indiana 94-74

One wonders where the offense is going to come from with the University of Louisville making it back to Madison Square Garden for a showdown with a good three-point shooting Indiana basketball team.

Rick Pitino’s teams have always defied being stereotyped, especially this one which had been shooting inconsistently, much less hitting three’s. They would put that behind them, putting an impressive offensive show,  with a convincing 94-74 pounding of the Hoosiers.

Montrezl Harrell will be there, of course, the dunking machine wanting the ball, knowing where to be, where to go, putting on a show. Six or seven colossal basket stuffers, blowing past the previous all-time record of 162 held by Pervis Ellison.

Harrell taking advantage of his size, aggressiveness and will to win, posing an impossible-to-ignore distraction for the IU defenders, giving his teammates room to maneuver, down the lane, outside the arc, in and around the big guys around the basket.

Terry Rozier and Chris Jones, appreciating the spotlight at The Garden, knowing they are on a big stage, taking full advantage of every opportunity, creating additional options for themselves, wanting to leave a lasting impression.

Rozier would rack up 26 points to lead all scorers, making good on eight of 17 attempts, including five three-pointers. Smith would accumulate 24, also hitting eight of 17 shots, including two three-pointers. And let the record shot that between them, they would make good on 11 of 16 free throw attempts.

Wayne Blackshear would connect on only one three-point shot out of nine tries, but he would wind up with 11 points. His biggest contribution may have been those five assists, at least three of them to Harrell for those backboard-swaying dunks. That’s a skill he needs to keep cultivating.

Then there was Mangok Mathiang, playing with that high ankle sprain, playing with that friendly attitude of his, coming up four blocks, three rebounds, and six points. Playing hurt but developing, getting better.

Anas Mahmoud, looking like he grew up playing basketball, the seven-footer throwing up those arms, creating barriers, disrupting shooters, finding his teammates. Two points, four rebounds, an assist, and steadily gaining confidence of his coach and teammates.

Found their shooting game in New York. Bring it home to Louisville.

Louisville over Minnesota at Pitino family reunion

ESPN gets its wish again, this time pitting Rick Pitino against son Richard on the opening night of the 2014-15 college basketball season, with the University of Louisville prevailing over Minnesota 81-68 in the Armed Forces Classic in Puerto Rico.

The elder Pitino happy with the win, but disappointed his son’s team loses its season opener. “I would rather have not played it, because my son lost,” he says afterward. Coaches never say no to ESPN, however, so a sequel is not out of the question, pending results of the TV ratings which have to be through the roof.

Happier time before the slugfest.
Happier time before the slugfest.

While feeling sorry for junior, Rick had to be pleased with his team’s performance, responding again and again to Minnesota comebacks, and a defense closely resembling his own team’s, a taste of what it’s like to play against a selfish, aggressive and unyielding defense. A foul-plagued game testing the depth and readiness of second-line players, resembling a mid-season game with super intensity levels.

Rick said two weeks ago UofL had to get up to speed quickly and his players obviously bought in, unleashing a no-holds-barred defense that refused to wilt, keeping the Cardinals in the game early, giving them some breathing room at the half. Not allowing the Gophers any uncontested shots or easy baskets during the final 20 minutes.

— Montrezl Harrell just a beast, barking out orders to his teammates while showcasing all the advances in his game. Hitting nine of 12 shots from the field, including three of four three-point attempts and nine of 10 free throw attempts for 30 points. Somehow avoiding the whistles and collecting only two personal fouls. Taking the role of captain seriously, constantly mentoring some teammates while leading by example.

— Terry Rozier displaying an array of shots around the basket that would have Russ Smith shaking his head. Out of the shadow a season later, blazing his own trails to the basket, in, around and through some mystified and frustrated defenders. Making seven of 11 shots from the field, four of six from the free throw line for 18 points, while chalking up four assists and four steals.

— Chris Jones assuming the ceaseless Andre McGee approach on defense, relentlessly challenging every dribble and pass. All the activity taking a toll on him on the offensive end, making four of 13 attempts from the field but four of four from the free throw line.

–Wayne Blackshear with a long night but on the floor for only 20 minutes after collecting three fouls in the first half. That familiar feeling back again, watching lots of critical action from the bench. Managing seven points on a three pointer and four of five from the three-point line.

— Chinanu Onuaku still growing up, getting stronger, clogging up the middle, getting in his own way much of time, fouling out in eight minutes with three rebounds, an assist and a turnover. Probably surprised to be named the starting center, surprised at the speed and ferocity of the college game. He will get there.

— David Levitch has come a long way, keeping the ball moving around the perimeter,protecting the ball with no awkward turnovers, sinking three of four free-throw attempts. A coach’s son playing like a coach’s son, relishing his early playing time, but somehow collecting four fouls, even a flagrant. Something more to work on.

A promising start for the University of Louisville, embracing an early challenge, providing a glimpse of what this team can become with the continued improvement that always comes with Rick Pitino teams.

Another life lesson for Richard from his Hall of Fame father, one he will use to his advantage. Probably not the last game between the Pitinos.