Monday, May 20, 2024

What Chucky Hepburn’s commitment means for Louisville basketball as Pat Kelsey lands ex-Wiscconsin guard

Louisville coach Pat Kelsey added another significant piece to his first roster on Thursday with the commitment of former Wisconsin point guard Chucky Hepburn. Ranked the No. 19 player in the CBS Sports Transfer Rankings, Hepburn will bring three years of Big Ten starting experience to the Cardinals as Kelsey looks to immediately turn the fortunes of a proud program.

He is merely the latest splashy addition for the Cardinals, who also have commitments from No. 27 transfer Terrence Edwards (James Madison) and No. 66 transfer J’Vonne Hadley (Colorado). In total, Kelsey has pledges from eight transfers, all of whom appear to be ACC-caliber contributors.

Landing Hepburn was especially significant because of his experience as a floor general for a quality high-major team. The 6-foot-2 All-Big Ten Defensive Team honoree averaged 9.2 points, 3.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game for the Badgers this past season. 

247Sports college basketball guru Isaiah Trotter identified a point guard as Louisville’s priority in his breakdown of team needs in the portal this week. He noted, “Kelsey needs a veteran lead guard who can get the ball where it needs to go for a Louisville team that plans to shoot a billion 3-pointers.” That box has officially been checked with Hepburn as the makings of a competitive group continue coming together for a program coming off a dismal 12-52 two-year run under former coach Kenny Payne.

Sorting out Louisville’s hierarchy

Hepburn was once the leading scorer for a Big Ten team, Washington transfer Koren Johnson was the Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year and Edwards was the Sun Belt Player of the Year. Going down the list of Louisville’s transfers, there’s also Hadley, who averaged 11.6 points per game for a Colorado team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Outside shooting wizard Reyne Smith was the leading scorer at his old school (Charleston) and Long Beach State transfer Aboubacar Traore played a major role for an NCAA Tournament team.

So, who will be the alpha for Louisville? While the smart money is likely on Edwards to be the team’s leading scorer, it’s a trick question. Based on how Kelsey’s teams played at Charleston, the Cardinals are likely to spread the wealth around during the 2024-25 season.

Charleston ranked in the top 40 nationally in bench minutes during each of Kelsey’s three seasons, per KenPom, and the Cougars received balanced scoring from a variety of sources while playing at a breakneck pace. Given the way Kelsey prefers to play, look for the Cardinals to continue to be active in filling out their roster with guys who can come in and immediately play rotation roles.

Chucky Hepburn’s game

Hepburn was rated as Wisconsin’s most efficient player and No. 2 defender this past season, per It was a credit to Hepburn’s all-around game that he still proved effective even as his 3-point shooting percentage slipped from 40.5% as a sophomore to 32.2% as a junior. While defense and distribution are Hepburn’s calling cards, he can step up as a scorer when needed.

The Nebraska native averaged a team-high 12.2 points per game for the Badgers in the 2022-23 season, albeit on just 37.7% shooting. Given the quality of offensive talent surrounding him at Louisville, Hepburn should be able to serve as a facilitator and secondary scorer who can get things organized on both ends of the floor.

He also gives Kelsey yet another veteran. Seven of the eight transfers landed by Kelsey thus far have multiple seasons of Division I experience under their belt. That should give the Cardinals a leg up on their quest to quickly flush the failures of the previous regime.

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