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David Levitch's role grows in final year

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North Oldham alum finds niche for Louisville basketball team

By Sam Draut

David Levitch says there aren’t tags over players’ heads, like their draft stock or recruiting rankings, but if there were, what would his say?

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It could say walk-on, but that probably wouldn’t do the senior justice, after all, the Goshen native has carved out a role for himself with the sixth-ranked Cardinals.

In a recent game against Eastern Kentucky, Levitch’s role is simplistically stated. Buried at the bottom of the box score, his subtly efficient line reads across the page:

“2 of 3 from the field, one foul, six points, two assists, one turnover, nine minutes.”

Checking in for the first time at the 6:05 mark in the first half, Levitch picked up an assist on a layup by Ray Spalding. On the following offensive possession, Levitch trailed Quentin Snider in transition near the top of the key and drilled a 3-pointer to extend Louisville’s lead to 13 points.

With two-and-a-half minutes gone by in the second half, Levitch received a pass on the left wing in transition and with no defender rushing toward him, the 6-foot-3 guard took two dribbles and confidently knocked down his second 3-pointer of the game.

A few possessions later, Levitch drove the ball into the paint and found V.J. King cutting baseline for a layup. Two minutes go by and Levitch is replaced by starting guard Donovan Mitchell and doesn’t return.

Few in the 20,000-plus crowd at the KFC YUM! Center will see those plays as eye-popping, because they probably weren’t, but they weren’t supposed to be. This is what role players do. This is what David Levitch is supposed to do, play five to ten minutes a game, run the offense, spread the floor and make a shot when it’s there.

“You can rely on guys like David Levitch,” Mitchell said. “It is great to have that trust and for coaches to have that trust. He has been around for so long, it is great to have that production from him.”

A player whose posture Louisville coach Rick Pitino once jokingly compared to Quasimodo more than likely won’t ever lead the Cardinals in scoring, but he understands what needs to be done. Pitino has said he plays Levitch because he does smart things on floor.

“He knows how to move the basketball on offense. He knows how to spot up,” Pitino has previously said.  “He can go by people.”

In 12 games this season, Levitch is averaging 8.8 minutes and made 54.5 percent (6 for 11) of his 3-point attempts. It is a small sample size, but nine assists to one turnover makes up a quietly impressive assist-to-turnover ratio, but lends to a larger premise.

When Levitch is on the floor, he doesn’t make too many mistakes. He might not be the most athletically gifted player on the floor, but Levitch doesn’t let his physical limitations become a liability.

“David is a unique player. He plays his own style of game. Nobody can change how he plays. He understands the game of basketball, his IQ is very high,” senior forward Mangok Mathiang said. “When David is on the court no one is like ‘Oh.’ Everyone on the team has confidence with each other.”

Mathiang might know Levitch’s style of play better than anyone on Louisville’s 15-man roster. Mathiang is a fifth-year senior that arrived in 2012, while Levitch is the Cardinals’ only four-year senior after joining the program in 2013.

While Levitch’s high school, North Oldham, is less than a 30-minute drive from the U of L campus, he had quite a different route to college basketball than Mathiang, who is from Melbourne, Australia. Regardless of how they arrived at U of L, Mathiang said it has been a privilege to play beside Levitch throughout his career.

As to Levitch’s role on the team in his final year, Mathiang wants him to knock down shots, saying it surprises him when Levitch comes into the game and actually misses a perimeter jumper.

“That is his job and that is what he does. He knows how to play the game,” Mathiang said. “If he has an open shot that he doesn’t take we always get on him, but in the back of his mind he thinks ‘I am doing this for a reason.’ It is David, we let him do his thing.”

In his fourth season in Pitino’s offensive and highly intricate defensive systems, Levitch represents a player who understands what is going on. Without a true backup point guard on the roster, Levitch has spent time on the floor spelling breaks for starter Quentin Snider this year.

“It is always fun when you get to play point guard, you feel like you are kind of in control. It is easy to hit these guys for open shots,” Levitch said. “It has been good to get out there and play a lot more.”

A third of the way through the season, Pitino has turned to Levitch just as much, if not more, than fifth-year graduate transfer Tony Hicks. While some expected Hicks to play a larger role in Louisville’s backcourt, Levitch’s understanding of what he is supposed to do could be why Pitino calls him from the bench before Hicks.

Pitino seems to have confidence in Levitch in most situations because the senior provides a steady presence.

“When you get in, you have to be confident because you never know when you are coming out,” Levitch said. “You have to make the best of it when you get in.”

Levitch, who earned a scholarship for his junior season, admitted he’s the most outspoken person on the court, but takes a leadership role when necessary.

“I pitch in when I need to,” Levitch said. “I definitely say something when I need to if someone needs help.”

Working years to become a contributor at Louisville wasn’t Levitch’s only option after he graduated from North Oldham holding nearly every statistical record in program history. Bellarmine and Stetson, among others, recruited Levitch, but playing for Louisville was what he wanted.

Levitch believed that if he worked hard, he could get onto the court toward the end of his career. His minutes per game have nearly doubled from his freshman and sophomore years to his junior and senior years.

“I grew up a fan,” Levitch said. “It was always something I dreamed about.”

The adjustment to college basketball wasn’t necessarily easy. Levitch had to learn Pitino’s system while becoming stronger and faster. Though he had to add weight in college, Levitch thinks some of the preparation in high school helped him improve as a basketball player.

He had three different coaches at North Oldham, Danny Edelen, David Henley and Chris Stobaugh, and said each one helped him in a different way. For the first time in three years, Levitch returned to North Oldham this fall for the Mustangs’ Midnight Madness.

Levitch also played AAU ball for his father, which allowed him to compete against some of the best players in the country.

At Louisville’s media day in October, Pitino included Levitch in a list of players that were walk-ons that have made an impact on his teams throughout the years.

“I’ve always been very, very lucky with walk-ons, from Kyle Kuric who originally came in here as a walk-on, to Tim Henderson, and going back to even at Kentucky with Anthony Epps,” Pitino said. “We’ve had guys that have determined whether we were going to go to a Final Four or not. They develop into scholarship players and Levitch is one of those types of basketball players.”

Whether Levitch finishes his final season as a walk-on who happens to be a role player or a role player who happens to be walk-on, it is more than certain that he will remain composed through all of it, contributing in the way he can.