LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -Edgar Sosa didn't expect the clock to start ticking this fast.
Yet here the Louisville sophomore is, trying to explain the sense of urgency that crackles through practice these days for one of the nation's most promising teams.
``Everyone can feel that this is the year we've got to do it,'' Sosa said. ``If it doesn't happen this year, it might not happen for a while.''
It's a statement the spirited point guard could have hardly imagined he'd be making this soon. Certainly not last fall, when the freshman class that coach Rick Pitino called one of his best ever struggled.
Sosa had problems running the offense, guard Jerry Smith was still looking for his stroke, forward Earl Clark was adjusting to the speed of the college game and forward Derrick Caracter spent the first half of the year finding new ways to get into Pitino's doghouse.
The kids, however, got their act together after New Year's Day, leading Louisville to a 24-10 record and a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The winning has only sped up the growing process for this talented team.
Pitino told reporters last month several Cardinals could be getting paid to play next year. Clark and Caracter are considered bona fide NBA prospects, and Sosa, Smith and junior forward Terrence Williams could make the leap as well.
``We knew we had a special class, but I think it's better than we knew,'' Pitino said. ``There's so much improvement left in those guys. ... (but) can those four guys take it to the next level?''
Pitino's praise for his team's potential comes with a caveat. The former NBA coach knows general managers are looking for something more than long arms and a jumper. They're looking for winners. Pitino said the quickest road to the NBA isn't through the stat sheet, but through winning in March.
To get there, the Cardinals will need to navigate the Big East, one of the nation's toughest conferences, while trying to focus on the present and not the potential riches that lay ahead.
It's a dance Pitino perfected at Kentucky, where he consistently led fabulously talented teams deep into the tournament, winning a national title in 1996.
If his players want to know what it's like to win games and polish your NBA resume at the same time, they need only ask assistant coach Walter McCarty, who starred for the Wildcats during their championship run in '96.
``We saw how good we could be, but only if we worked together,'' McCarty said. ``The thing is, when things are going well, everybody is going to get theirs. That's how it works.''
Sosa compares his class to a more recent team: Florida's group of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Taurean Green and Corey Brewer. The quartet, who dubbed themselves ``The '04s,'' were the core of a team that won back-to-back national championships. All four were taken in last summer's NBA draft.
The Gators won by playing unselfishly, and the only statistic Pitino trots out when talking about what Florida accomplished is how all four players managed to get drafted though no one on the team averaged more than 13.3 points per game.
``They had a lot of guys who said they were potential pros, and when you win, it doesn't really matter about 'Me, me,''' Smith said. ``'Me, me, me,' is not important when you're trying to win games.''
It's a gospel the Cardinals followed closely last year. No player averaged more the 12.4 points, though seven averaged at least six.
And while Sosa and his classmates make up the heart of the Cardinals, they're hardly the soul.
Center David Padgett, finally healthy after two years of knee problems, will provide a steadying force in the lane. Williams may be the best all-around player on the team and forward Juan Palacios hopes he can stay healthy enough to regain the form that helped the Cardinals make it to the Final Four in 2005.
How successful Louisville becomes, however, will rely on how much of the ``team first'' mentality that Pitino preaches every day is absorbed by his players.

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