Tag Archives: basketball

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INSPIRE | February 2018

screen-shot-2018-01-31-at-1-56-06-pmPhoto of Shannon Burton by Ronnie Louis

I have wanted to have a shot like this ever since I saw the shot of Michael Jordan in this pose when I was a young girl. Basketball was my life once upon a time. I was blessed enough to get a full scholarship to both Duke University and Butler University, and I am still a fan of both awesome schools. Yes, I am a woman. Yes, I can palm a basketball. Strong is beautiful, and I will teach my daughters that until the day I die. This picture means a lot to me personally. It tells a story: my journey. It may be 28 years later, but I still feel like one of the luckiest women in the world to have had this experience. – Shannon Burton

Shannon Burton is a wife, mother, model and lover of yoga pants and evening gowns.

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Wiley Brown’s Success at Indiana University Southeast is No Surprise

screen-shot-2018-01-31-at-3-13-55-pmBy Howie Lindsey of 790 KRD | Photos by Danny Alexander

Wiley Brown’s success as the head coach at Indiana University Southeast (IUS) isn’t a surprise to those who know him best. And it’s not really a surprise to those he has barely met.

Brown seems to have that effect on people.

“My grandmother rooted me in hard work, always helping others and putting a smile on someone’s face,” he says with a broad smile of his own.

Sitting behind an unassuming desk in his modest office inside the IUS Athletics offices that are attached to the Grenadiers’ home gym, Brown echoes his grandmother’s words: “Someone you meet may be going through something worse than you are.”

Brown’s quick smile and warm demeanor combined with a strong work ethic and his extensive basketball knowledge have formed a successful mix for the IUS Grenadiers the last decade.

Under his direction, the Grenadiers went to seven consecutive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament appearances from 2007-8 to 2013-14. Brown has led IUS to six River States Conference (formerly known as Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletics Conference – or KIAC) tournament titles, and he has been named KIAC Coach of the Year three times (2010, 2012 and 2014).

When you ask Brown about his coaching success, he deflects the praise.

“The two Hall of Fame coaches I have trained under – that’s a good way to start,” Brown said.

And truly,Brown has learned from two of the best.

screen-shot-2018-01-31-at-3-14-18-pmHe spent 15 seasons at the University of Louisville in various capacities, from strength training to interim assistant coach to outreach coordinator. His tenure bridged the years between Denny Crum and Rick Pitino.

Brown says he learned from both Hall of Fame coaches.

“Coach Crum, I took his strategy in scheduling,” Brown said. “We play a tough schedule in the beginning and you learn from them. That’s Coach Crum’s philosophy. And then, hopefully, by the time you are at this point, your team is moving in the right direction. Those games that you have when you blow teams out, you just don’t learn from those games. You learn early against tough teams, so when that happens at the end of the season, you already know from earlier how to handle it.”

This year’s Grenadier team played well, but took losses to Bellarmine, Lindsey Wilson and Georgetown. They learned from those games and won 9 of 10 games from Nov. 30 through mid-January.

From Pitino, Brown says he learned to focus on getting his team just right for a run in the postseason.

“Coach P always had his guys ready for tournament play,” Brown said. “He may not have played a tough early schedule, but he got them ready in different ways, and by tournament time, they were always tough.”

On the sideline, Brown is a little closer to Pitino than Crum’s Cool Hand Luke persona.

“Coach Crum was always so laidback, on the court and off the court,” Brown said. “Now, I’m not like that on the court, but he would also tell us all the time: ‘You guys are grown men, and you came here to play college basketball. I am going to let you play.’ That is what I try to give to my guys now. And Coach Pitino as well. He would reign them in, in the beginning, but when it got to conference play and then tournament play, he would loosen that string up and let them play. You have to play loose at the right times.”

Brown explained, “Really I learned from both coaches that you always have to let the talent show. I try to let my guys go. As long as they play defense and rebound, I’ll take a few bad shots every now and then. I want to let them show their talent.”

His ability to work with players is really his coaching hallmark.

“I think one of the reasons he’s such a successful player’s coach is because he’s done it,” IUS Athletic Director Joe Glover said. “He’s been there at the highest level and knows exactly what they’re going through as student-athletes.”

Brown’s knowledge for the game was evident to the players back when he was a strength coach at UofL.

Marques Maybin, former UofL star and current host of Midday with Marques Maybin on 93.9 FM said, “You hate to be so cliché with Wiley Brown, but you know he just knows. All you have to do is talk to him for three minutes, and everything that comes out of his mouth is right. It’s hard to doubt him because he did it as a player and a pro. Everything about Wiley Brown says he’s knows basketball, especially Louisville basketball.”

It was that basketball knowledge, combined with his connections in the local basketball scene, that made Brown so attractive to IUS a decade ago.

“I’m very blessed. I really am,” Brown said. “I have a great job here. I loved my time at the University of Louisville, and I was fortunate to use my experience at the University of Louisville to get this job here. … This school to take a chance on a coach who had never been a head coach before. I had coached AAU basketball, but they gave me a shot.”

Brown took the reins at IUS and ran with them, winning 24 games in that first season and more than 200 games since taking over.

“He wanted to be in that position for a long time, and when he got his opportunity he has taken advantage of it,” Crum said. “I am really proud of him. It’s a good place, a nice university and it’s close to home here. I don’t know where he could have gone that’s better than that spot.”

Brown understands Kentuckiana’s basketball culture and knows where to find the right players to add to his roster mix. Every player on the IUS roster is from an easy drive to New Albany, nine from Kentucky and eight from Indiana.

But Brown’s success at IUS isn’t just a product of Crum and Pitino or his local connections. His success has come from years of hard work.

“Everything Wiley Brown has he earned with hard work,” Louisville Assistant Athletic Director Jim McGhee said. And McGhee, a 40-year staff member at UofL, knows all about hard work. “Wiley worked hard at every spot and worked his way up. And he can work with anybody.”

The roots of that work ethic go back to Brown’s hometown. When introducing himself to crowds or in interviews, Brown likes to start with the line, “I’m from Sylvester, Georgia.”

“My hometown means very much to me. It is still special to me,” Brown said. “I don’t know if I could live there today, but my older sister lives there and my younger sister lives there. My grandmother, who raised me, passed away a couple years ago. And my mother, they passed away about a year apart. … I still go back to visit.”

Brown and his three siblings were raised to value hard work.

“My grandmother always said, ‘There are going to be some bumps in the road, but how you get over those bumps is what will make you the man you are going to be’,” Brown said. “I grew up like that – we didn’t have very much, but we didn’t know it.

“We always made the best of it, and family is the most important thing. I love going back home to visit my sisters. That’s my roots. That’s where I started from and why I am where I am today.”

Brown was a standout athlete from the very beginning. He was an excellent football player, but basketball seemed to be his first love.

“We lived in the projects in my early years, and there was always basketball goals there. The rims didn’t stay on for long, but in those days, it wasn’t concrete for the court. It was dirt. We had dirt courts back then,” Brown recalled. “We didn’t have nets on the rims, so you didn’t know if it went through or not in the dark. Playing like that always made us stronger.”

Louisville discovered Brown on a tip.

“We had an alumnus and traveled in that area, and when he didn’t have anything else to do, he would go to the high school games,” Crum said. “He told me about this kid who played football as a tight end and defensive end. He was an all-state athlete, but he wanted to be a basketball player. We went and talked to him, and he came to Louisville.”

Football was still an option to the very end.

“I was either going to go to the University of Georgia or Florida State, but some things happened with the coaching situations there, and Coach (Jerry) Jones came down to watch me play,” Brown said. “Coach Jones used to coach in Tifton, Georgia, and he knew the area. He brought me up to Louisville, and I fell in love with the area.”

And the area fans fell in love with him, too.

As a sophomore, Brown helped Louisville win the 1980 NCAA Championship. He started all 36 games for the Cardinals, playing alongside fellow legends Darrell Griffith, Scooter and Rodney McCray, Derek Smith and Jerry Eaves.

“We’re still close to this day,” Brown said. “We keep in touch all the time. We always make sure we rally around each other, stay in touch and keep up with each others’ lives. We have stuck together even today.”

During his time in college at Louisville, Brown and teammate Derek Smith are credited for “inventing” the high five. Let him explain.

“I tell all the youngsters, ‘I know you all weren’t alive when I played, but just go and look up who invented the high five,’” Brown said. “They always look it up and then say, ‘Coach, I can’t believe you invented the high five.’ That’s a crazy story, and I’ll go to my grave still telling (it). I tell my son that his father helped invent the high five.”

Brown explained further: “We would always do the low five in practices, of course, but Derek Smith, my best friend, said one time, ‘Give it up high,’ and from then on we generated all that excitement and momentum throughout everywhere we played. So, the high five was invented just from a moment in practice when we were slapping hands. You gotta understand it was me, a 6-foot-8 guy and another 6-8, so why would we do the low five? So, we just said, ‘Let’s throw it up high,’ and that’s exactly what happened.

“We played on national TV all the time, and then you saw a lot of other teams start doing it, too. It’s something to be proud of. I’m absolutely proud we started something that caught on throughout the nation. It goes down in history. We still do the high five today.”

After Louisville, Brown returned to football. Then, Dick Vermeil and the Philadelphia Eagles came calling.

Brown was a pioneer for college basketball stars switching to the NFL. What is now more common place – guys like Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and WKU’s George Fant – was remarkable in the 1980s when Brown was under contract for two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

After the NFL, Brown spent time playing professional basketball in Spain, France and Italy. But when it came time to settle down, Brown came back “home” to the Kentuckiana area.

“This area has embraced me, and I love this area, too,” Brown said. “That’s what I hope happens with the guys at Louisville now, too. I know the fans will embrace these players at UofL now and treat them like family like they have always treated me like family.”

Of all the accomplishments in Brown’s life story – the NCAA title, the high five, the NFL, pro basketball and coaching success – he was quick to say what he is most proud of: his four children (Nina, Breauna, Wiley Jr. and Caleb) and getting his degree.

“When we walked across that stage, it was special,” Brown said. “It was an amazing feeling. My top highlights: getting my degree, having my kids, winning that championship. … I tell my guys all the time, ‘Please don’t take this for granted. Please focus on getting your education. It can take you a long way, a lot further than this basketball game will.’ “

Brown made the UofL honor roll twice and graduated with a degree in communications, health education and Pan-African studies in 1992.

“It is very, very important to me that they get their education,” Brown said. “It was instilled in me at a young age by my grandmother. And then when I got to Louisville, to see an All-American graduate in four years like Darrell Griffith did, that spoke volumes. It really did. Derek and I, when we went off to our professional careers, we came back and got our degrees. … I want all my players to get their degrees.”

Glover said he values Brown’s focus on academics: “The thing that I believe sets him apart is he truly looks at all those players like they’re his sons. He goes to bat for them and it’s really not just about basketball. It’s more about life and making sure these young men succeed and get their degree.”

Brown has led IUS to success on the court and off, but he’s not done yet.

“I got a taste of the Final Four a few years back, but I want more. I want a national championship here,” Brown said. “I’m telling you, I can hear this ringing in my ear. When we won our national championship, Darrell Griffith was on that stage, and he said, ‘We won the national championship. But that also means we are No. 1 in Bulgaria and Sweden and everywhere.’ It doesn’t make a difference if it is an NCAA championship or a NAIA championship, being No. 1 means you are No. 1 everywhere you go. No one else is the NCAA champion that year. No one else is the NAIA champion. I would love to win a national championship here.”


“ IT DOESN’T MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF IT IS AN NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP OR A NAIA CHAMPIONSHIP, BEING NO. 1 MEANS YOU ARE NO. 1 EVERYWHERE YOU GO.”

– WILEY BROWN

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Louisville Women’s Basketball Marching Toward The Top

By Jeff Nunn of CardinalSportsZone.com | Photos by Adam Creech, courtesy University of Louisville Athletics

screen-shot-2018-01-31-at-3-18-59-pmThe old saying is “If you wanna be the best you gotta beat the best.” The University of Louisville Women’s Basketball team wants to be the best and they are dominantly marching their way straight to the top and taking on all comers.

Louisville came into this season ranked No. 10 in USA Today’s preseason coaches poll. The schedule ahead of them appeared daunting, as they would have to face six teams ranked in the preseason top 25 (No. 1 UConn, No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 8 Ohio State, No. 12 Duke, No. 14 Florida State and No. 24 Miami).

Louisville also had the possibility of playing No. 11 Oregon and/or No. 23 Michigan in the Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament, making that potentially eight preseason top 25 teams as well as a trip to Lexington to face nemesis Kentucky – never an easy trip.

The Cards are coming off of a season that ended in the Sweet 16 and are returning nine players from that team. Included in that nine are Asia Durr, the ACC’s preseason player of the year, and Myisha Hines-Allen. They also bring in the nation’s top recruiting class that includes Dana Evans, Lindsey Duvall and Loretta Kakala.

UofL head coach Jeff Walz confidently marched his wealth of talent into this season like a proud peacock. The look in his eye during preseason interviews was as easy to read as a mother goose nursery rhyme. And that message was that he was sitting on something very special.

It didn’t take long for everyone to see exactly what coach Walz already knew when, in the second game of the season, Louisville played No. 8 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. It took overtime, but Louisville prevailed 95-90. Just four days later, Louisville faced No. 24 Michigan in the Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament. Louisville destroyed them by 25 points and, only two days later, would play No. 11 Oregon in the championship of the NIT. The Cards easily handled that challenge winning by 13 points.

Front Row – 12 Lindsey Duvall, 23 Jazmine Jones, 10 Sydney Zambrotta, 2 Myisha Hines-Allen, head coach Jeff Walz, 25 Asia Durr, 11 Arica Carter, 24 Jessica Laemmle, 1 Dana Evans Back Row – Video Cordinator LaMont Russell, Executive Director of Player Relations Adrienne Johnson, associate coach Sam Purcell, assistant coach Sam Williams, 3 Sam Fuehring, 32 Loretta Kakala, 21 Kylee Shook, 33 Bionca Dunham, associate head coach Stephanie Norman, Director of Operations Kate Tucker, Assistant Strength & Condition Coach/Special Advisor to the Head Coach Beth Burns, Asst. Athletic Trainer Keressa Ackles, Sports Performance Coach Kaitlynn Jones

Front Row – 12 Lindsey Duvall, 23 Jazmine Jones, 10 Sydney Zambrotta, 2 Myisha Hines-Allen, head coach Jeff Walz, 25 Asia Durr, 11 Arica Carter, 24 Jessica Laemmle, 1 Dana Evans
Back Row – Video Cordinator LaMont Russell, Executive Director of Player Relations Adrienne Johnson, associate coach Sam Purcell, assistant coach Sam Williams, 3 Sam Fuehring, 32 Loretta Kakala, 21 Kylee Shook, 33 Bionca Dunham, associate head coach Stephanie Norman, Director of Operations Kate Tucker, Assistant Strength & Condition Coach/Special Advisor to the Head Coach Beth Burns, Asst. Athletic Trainer Keressa Ackles, Sports Performance Coach Kaitlynn Jones

Since winning the NIT, Louisville has been smashing opponents like they are driving an armored tank through a pumpkin patch. This well-oiled machine has enjoyed a school record run of victories that include a 22-point win over Vanderbilt, a 13-point victory at Indiana, a 24-point victory at Kentucky, a 6-point win over Duke and highlighted by a 100- 67 win over then second ranked Notre Dame.

With that victory over Notre Dame, Louisville climbed to the second ranked team in the country, which is the highest regular season ranking in school history. Also with that victory, the Cards improved to 19-0 that extended a program record for consecutive wins to start a season, which previously stood at 15.

All the winning is fun for the Cards but looming ahead is a date with top ranked UConn. On Feb. 12, Louisville will travel to Storrs, Connecticut, for a 7 p.m. battle that will likely be the barometer of how close they are to being the best.

UConn is, and has been, the gold standard in women’s college basketball. Over the past 10 seasons, they have made it to the Final Four each and every year, winning six national championships, including four straight championships from 2012-16. They have won 11 total national championships since 1995. From Nov. 23, 2014, to March 31, 2017, UConn put together a 111-game winning streak where 108 of those were won by double digits and 61 of those were victories of at least 40 points.

This season, UConn is undefeated and still holding that No. 1 spot that they were voted to during the preseason. UConn and Louisville have one common opponent that is worth noting if you are trying to find some way to compare these teams. Both have played Notre Dame. UConn won by 9 and Louisville won by 33. While I don’t put a ton of stock into that comparison, it’s all we have until they clash in February.

If both teams win out until they meet, as expected, it should be No. 1 (24-0) vs No. 2 (25-1).

As epic as this confrontation sounds, the outcome will not make or break either team’s season. The winner of this game, barring any late season bad losses, should set themselves up to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. The loser should be in line to receive one of the three remaining No. 1 seeds.

While UConn has plenty of NCAA tournament success, Louisville has done pretty well themselves. Under Walz, Louisville has made 10 straight NCAA tournament appearances. During that span, Louisville has finished as the NCAA runner-up to UConn twice (2009 and 2013).

In both of those runner-up years, Louisville had one of the best players in the country leading their team. In 2009, Angel McCoughtry led the Cards, and in 2013, Shoni Schimmel was their leader. This season, Louisville has, in my humble opinion, the best player in the country in Asia Durr. But the difference between this team and the two runner-up teams is that Louisville has Myisha Hines-Allen, who would be the best player on about 98 percemt of every other team in the country. Yes, Louisville has an amazing 1-2 punch, as well as a very good supporting cast that seems to keep getting better as they gain experience. Also, the development of junior Sam Fuehring and sophomores Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook really makes them a deep team. That depth makes Louisville a team that just wears you down over the course of a game.

Could the star power balanced with the great supporting players be the perfect formula that takes the Cards all the way to the National Championship? I’m not sure, but I definitely wouldn’t bet against it.

Regardless of whether they win it all or not, the Cards have marched their way straight to the top and given themselves the opportunity to see if they have what it takes. It should be very fun and interesting to witness. Stay tuned.

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The Local College Hoops Scene Is Bonkers | The Final Say

By Zach McCrite

What an unusual college sports landscape we’re in right now in Kentuckiana.

Sure, pro sports chatter is primarily about the athletes. But in major, revenue-producing college athletics, the primary subject of the ire for media and fans (save for very few exceptions) is the head coach.

And in our area, we’re in a curious spot with all of the head coaches at the basketball programs.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF ARCHIE MILLER

Let’s start with Indiana, probably the least curious of the three within a proverbial rock’s throw from this publication’s readership.

Archie Miller has been given plenty of leash to work out the kinks in a program that certainly needed it. And it’s been a work in progress, to say the least.

In fact, there have been many fans that have – more or less – allowed the first-year head coach to take massive, embarrassing losses at the friendly confines of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Multiple losses. To other in-state teams. By 20 or more points.

Sure, between implementing a brand-new style of play and doing it with the limited talent left to him on the current roster, getting Indiana back to the perennial Top 25 team they used to be once upon a time is, of course, not an overnight process.

But, even with those disparaging losses, Hoosier fans and media alike (myself included) have treated Miller with kid gloves, taking these losses in stride, for the most part.

Of course, it’s safe to say there has been some improvement in the group as the season has gone on. Tip of the cap, Arch.

But, I feel like, even in his charter season, Archie would be feeling a little more heat from all of us in Hoosierland if not for this little protective bubble that’s been placed around him.

That bubble goes by the name of Romeo Langford.

As sports fans, we traffic in hope. We thrive on it. It’s our caffeine. That hope is what keeps us coming back for more, even when success isn’t coming at a consistent rate. It’s our current cup of coffee.

And that current cup of “hope coffee” is Romeo,

the top high school shooting guard in the Class of 2018, making posters out of poor opposing defenders with his addictive take-him-home-to-meet-your-momma demeanor.

The kind of local celeb where you can talk to other local strangers about him, refer to him only by his first name, and both of you know to whom the other is referring.

I don’t know where Romeo is going for his college basketball career. Neither do you (unless, of course, he surprised us all with an announcement between the time of this writing and now). But Hoosier fans are hoping it’s IU, obviously.

And it’s a credit to Miller that IU is even in the hunt for Romeo, especially given the substandard state of the Indiana hoops program.

My educated guess? Romeo wouldn’t have IU in his final list of potential schools to which he’s contemplating going to school to play basketball had Tom Crean still been the coach in Bloomington.

But Romeo’s interest in the Hoosiers has created a protective bubble of hope around Miller. Until Romeo decides to commit to a school not named Indiana, that protective hope bubble will not fade, providing what would be harsh criticism – the kind usually reserved for coaches who receive beatdowns from powerhouses like Indiana State and Fort Wayne – from really hitting the IU coach.

And if Romeo does decide to dawn the Crimson and Cream, that protective cocoon once conceived of hope where Miller currently resides will turn into one made out of real credit (and gratitude, too).

THE CURIOUS CASE OF JOHN CALIPARI

I’m literally shocked by the way Kentucky head coach John Calipari has been acting lately.

Sure, he’s a master of using the media to get a message across to his team (and, at times, to his recruits as well). But, this time around, he’s been as critical of a Kentucky team as he’s ever been as the head coach of the Wildcats, especially given the new class of freshmen he brought to Lexington, a class worthy of a top-five preseason national ranking.

John Calipari’s success at UK has been exemplary. Final Fours, once a fleeting luxury under Tubby Smith and an impossibility under Billy Gillispie, are now damn near expected regardless of the new crop of newcomers that comes into Big Blue Country.

In Cal We Trust.

Whether it’s after the oodles of victories or the small handful of defeats, Cal will usually mention the seemingly few flaws of his team. They’re usually mental flaws that he hopes will get corrected by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around.

More often than not, Cal blames these flaws on his team’s never-ending youth. As expected as death and taxes.

But this season has been different. The Cats are taking unusual losses – unusual for Big Blue Nation, at least. It’s not like they’re going to miss the tournament or anything.

But the usual Cal quotes have been modified. This is a rarity.

Consider: Earlier in the season, after a 29-point shellacking of rival Louisville, the UK coach did the unthinkable. He was going to stop referring to that youth.

“I said today before the game, we’re no longer freshmen,” Calipari said after another victory in the rivalry back in December. “I’m not saying it anymore – we’re not freshmen now. We’re 10 games in, 11 games in, we are not freshmen.”

Then, in a mid-January loss at home against lowly South Carolina, Calipari went back to his old, youth-based excuses for his team’s inability to play at the level commensurate to the Kentucky head coach’s expectations had returned.

“This looked like a bunch of freshmen playing,” Calipari said after his team’s 76-68 collapse at South Carolina.

“The first half, you would look and say, ‘Ah, they got a nice team and da da da da.’ They’re all freshmen. In the second half, you looked at us and we looked like a bunch of freshmen playing like freshmen would play.”

Cal used the word “freshmen” three times before he took one breath.

Perhaps the players aren’t the only ones reverting to old childlike habits.

The surprise isn’t that the excuses had returned, it’s that Cal tried to make those disappear in the first place.

Weird.

And then on top of that has been the cryptic way in which he’s talked about one of his six (SIX!) five-star freshmen recruits.

Jarred Vanderbilt injured his foot early in the preseason and hadn’t played a game up until the aforementioned loss to South Carolina. It had been Vanderbilt’s third injury to the same foot. That is a true worry for a player seemingly-destined to be less than a calendar year away from having a seven-annual income.

Kentucky had needed him. And people had seen reports of him continuously practicing and dressing for games.

But Vanderbilt still wasn’t seeing the court, and Calipari was being uncharacteristically and mostly-indirectly criticizing Vanderbilt’s inability to play.

“I’d like for him to give me more than what I would’ve gotten today because I didn’t see him all day,” Calipari said.

It was like there was more to the story. Who knows?

“The problem with being injured when you’re on my teams, I really spend no time with you,” Calipari said. “Sometimes I forget names. Like I forget who (Vanderbilt) is. Because I’ve gotta focus on the guys I’m coaching right now. They’ve gotta get healthy and be ready to come back and be ready to go. Jarred is the same.”

He forgets his players’ names? Come on.

Calipari is always a master of the media. His press conferences are always entertaining.

But this year, it’s just been different. Different than in any other season.

It’s been over the top.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF DAVID PADGETT

The most curious case of all has been David Padgett. The poor guy got thrown into an absolute grease fire.

So, of course, his team floundered around for awhile while the players acclimated to a coaching style that is, by many accounts, far more relaxed than the style of their coaching predecessor, Rick Pitino.

The feeling I got from Pitino before his firing was that if Donovan Mitchell, currently one of the NBA’s best rookies, left for the pros after last season, it was going to be an uphill climb for this season’s championship hopes.

No surprise there. Mitchell is a star. Any team would hurt if they lost a kid like Mitchell.

Obviously, this was before Pitino got gifted Brian Bowen, the highly-touted recruit whose family member, we later learned, allegedly agreed to receive money to come to Louisville, which, in part, may have ended up being the final nail in Pitino’s Cardinal Coffin.

Since then, Padgett has had to do a dance of trying to be himself to his team, while still trying to cling to many Pitino’s championship principles.

Now, many Pitino loyalists, who are still bitter about the way “Slick Rick” was dismissed are taking out the team’s struggles on Padgett.

“The players aren’t listening to him.”

“Padgett’s lost this team. This would’ve never (have) happened to Rick.”

We got it, Rick-backers, winning trumps all, even multiple NCAA violations.

Duly noted.

But, for the rest of us that think Pitino’s firing was justified, even if we admired his coaching ability (I know I did), there was really no other way to bring on a brand-new coach that had any sort of resume.

UofL had two weeks to figure this out, for crying out loud. What were they supposed to do?

Had Louisville brought on a seasoned, but recently-fired coach, that coach isn’t going to just agree to a one-year deal. And even if they do, what if they had success? Then, Louisville would’ve had to stick with the guy, a guy they had all but a handful of days to truly vet.

The timing was terrible.

Still, Padgett is taking a team that likely wasn’t destined for the Final Four and, as of this writing, has gone the whole season with just a handful of losses – none of them to teams outside the AP Top 25.

It’s been a fascinating watch.

HERE’S A CURIOUS BONUS

And, alone at the top, probably sipping on a Mai Tai and cackling at all the other nonsense going on south of West Lafayette, is Matt-freaking-Painter. Who knew he’d be the one with the stress meter, relatively speaking, at zero?

What an unusual college hoops landscape, indeed.

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The Endless Story of Tom Jurich

By Zach McCrite

It never ends.

Every month, I am given carte blanche to write about whatever I want to write about in this space. My goal, obviously, is to write about what people in the community want to read about when they open a Kentuckiana-based sports magazine.

And every month, seemingly, here I am, finding myself writing more about the ongoing sagas (plural) that are going on at the University of Louisville.

Some of you may be as fatigued by my writings in this space as Cardinal fans are by the ostensibly-boundless stories portraying their favorite school, former athletic director and former basketball coach in a negative light – in part by their own actions.

Since I last penned a column for this space, those stories continued.

It can be fatiguing for fans and writers alike. But, it’s the story.

Courier Journal (formerly known as The Courier-Journal) and ESPN released exhaustive stories that focused on Tom Jurich, the much celebrated, much debated, fired AD at UofL. I was one of a handful of local media members interviewed in Tim Sullivan’s Courier Journal article about Jurich’s business tactics.

I could’ve used this space to give my loyal readers the inside scoop before anyone else got it. In fact, I should have.

But, up until last month, I had vowed to never speak of it publicly. There were numerous reasons I never did up until recently. First, shortly after the meeting, I felt like Jurich was doing what he felt he had to do in helping keep me from a potential job opening. After sulking in my new reality as it pertained to missing out on a great opportunity, I realized it was business. It affected me massively, but that was his prerogative. I just didn’t know he had that power at the time.

And, if we’re being real, there was a part of me that was proud of it. And it was newfound pride. I was proud that, before the age of 30, Jurich thought I carried a big enough stick in the market to sway public opinion—an opinion he apparently with which he did not agree. Up until that point, I never thought that much of my own ability. Jurich considered me credible.

But, the much more important reason I never went public with this story, a story that dates back over seven years ago now, is this: had I gone public, listeners would take every opinion I had from that point forward and would perceive that I had a bias against UofL athletics that simply did not exist.

I was determined not to let it dictate my opinion on matters of which listeners turned on the radio to hear me. I had gained the trust of many listeners in the area. In the media business, there is nothing more valuable than your listeners’ trust. Why would I want to betray that by telling a story that would make people think I am now anti-UofL even though I wasn’t?

Sure, people inside the media knew of my run-ins (plural, I got calls from his department many times over the years along with many other media members) with the University of Louisville and Jurich, in particular. But, I always thought it would look like sour grapes if I ever told the story publicly.

AN EXAMPLE OF JURICH’S POWER OVER LOCAL MEDIA

Here’s what happened: I met with Jurich in his office after hearing he was, perhaps, being a roadblock to a job I thought I already had – new afternoon show co-host on WKRD 790 AM back in 2010. I was accused by Jurich, mainly, of being too critical of Steve Kragthorpe, the coach who had, by that time, already been fired by Tom, himself.

My basic rebuttal was that it was basically impossible not to be critical since, you know, Kragthorpe took a program fresh off an Orange Bowl victory and promptly went 15-21 in three years as head coach of the Cardinals including the most embarrassing loss I, to this day, have ever seen at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, a 38-35 defeat to Syracuse. At that time, that was the biggest upset, according to Vegas sports books, in college football history. Louisville was a 39.5-point favorite that day. How could I not be critical?

“Besides, Tom,” I recall asking him, “you’re firing of Steve validates my criticisms of him, does it not?” Jurich responded by implying that I helped shape the public narrative of a coach that didn’t deserve it. Whatever.

After more sparring, I walked out of that meeting knowing that I wasn’t going to be the host of a show I had already been tabbed by radio station management to co-host.

It was my first real sniff of how much power Jurich had when it came to local media coverage. Of course, if you were a diehard, Louisville-never-needs-to-be-criticized-because-I-simply-love-them-that-much sort of Cardinal fan, Tom loved you. That meant he didn’t love me. Oh well.

In the interest of fairness, Jurich’s side of this story is that he doesn’t remember this meeting.

And, for the record, I don’t consider Tom being a ‘bully’ to me. I guess it was just his prerogative to not have me on airwaves for which he had at least some level of control. I was just a 29-year-old who was too dumb to understand that this is how it works in some markets where the media entity has to make nice with one of their highest-paying customers or else face the consequences.

Jurich and I were always respectful of each other in public after that – shaking hands when we saw each other. But, Jurich made his feelings about me well known just in that simple handshake. Either that, or he regularly shakes hands with the strength of a wet newspaper.

Luckily, the people in power at iHeartRadio (which was Clear Channel at the time), while wanting to keep their client (Jurich) happy, also felt me valuable enough to keep me around.

And thanks to them and Matt Jones, who was starting up a new radio show on a different station in the same building, I was still able to secure a radio gig without much downtime, becoming Matt’s first partner on “Kentucky Sports Radio.” Not long after that, I was tabbed as a radio host for ESPN St. Louis.

In hindsight, it was a blessing.

I only put that story here in the interest of giving you my version of what went down in more detail than what was penned in the Courier Journal story. And my story is tame compared to others that have had less-than-favorable run-ins with the guy who many thought was the most powerful man in the city of Louisville for the better part of two decades.

JURICH’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS GO UNMATCHED

That, however, does not preclude me from applauding Jurich on many fronts.

He was undoubtedly the head man in turning Floyd Street from a road known for its ugly silos to a road full of beautiful sports-hosting facilities worth well into the nine-figures in total.

He also was aware before many others in his position all over the country, that women’s sports not only mattered in the grand scope of college athletics, but he was also successful in making it known to companies who donated to such endeavors that it was the “long game” to which they would see their return on investment.

The fired athletic director also gets a bad rap for how he handled the initial negotiations in the lease that secured UofL as the anchor tenant at the KFC Yum Center. The deal he helped negotiate for the university, according to ESPN, meant UofL kept “88 percent of premium seat licensing, 97 percent of suite sales, all program revenue and half of concessions.”

This was a deal to which both the city and the university agreed. A sweetheart deal. And isn’t that what you’d want if you had a negotiator working a lease for you? That’s what Jurich did for the University of Louisville.

Where Jurich misses is claiming in the same ESPN story that Louisville “took all the risk.”

Please. Where is that risk? Were you afraid that the three percent of suite sales you had to give away was going to cripple your program?

I also don’t blame him for being, at the very least, a massive obstacle for the city of Louisville ever being home to an NBA team. Jurich’s sweetheart deal with the KFC Yum Center came with priorities that effectively left the NBA zero options to place a team in Louisville.

According to the original lease, the University of Louisville’s men’s basketball programs had control of the KFC Yum Center not only on days of home basketball games, but also on the day before and the day after each game.

In other words, for every UofL game at “The Bucket,” UofL had reserved the arena for three days. That meant that there was absolutely no way that an NBA team could effectively schedule 41 home games at the KFC Yum Center.

Access denied. A win for Jurich.

Jurich and the school both wanted to keep an NBA team from dipping their proverbial hands in the UofL cookie jar full of donors and sponsors that Jurich and his team had filled up to the brim.

And, again, who can blame Jurich for making that deal. He was hired to fill up that once-empty cookie jar. And keep it full.

There was so much money falling out of that cookie jar thanks to Jurich, in fact, that former president James Ramsey was sliding that money, seemingly under the table, to Jurich in deals that were probably less than forthcoming to the taxpaying public.

Of course, that story is child’s play compared to all the other shady dealing’s the former school president had, which all came to light when an audit of the university’s finances became public earlier this year.

JURICH’S FIRING IS STILL JUSTIFIED

Tom’s contract reads like that of a made mafia man. That is, if the mafia ever put anything in writing.

Jurich’s contract leaves the university with basically no route to not pay him at least a very hefty portion of his remaining contract – a sign of the lockstep in which Jurich and Ramsey regularly danced.

The contract addendum, agreed upon in 2011, says UofL has to pay Jurich a full year’s salary even if he’s fired “for cause.” Translation: It’s more than likely going to be a seven-figure payday for Jurich. Just for being fired.

I bet if you look close, you can still see the marks Ramsey left on Jurich’s back and vice versa. They scratched each other’s backs constantly, it seemed.

That’s not Tom’s fault. In fact, I applaud him for getting that installed as part of his contract. Some might even say he earned it.

But that doesn’t mean his firing wasn’t justified.

The new Board of Trustees at the University of Louisville, led in part by one of the university’s biggest donors and supporters, Papa John Schnatter, put into place checks and balances that didn’t appear to be in place before their arrival.

Part of those checks and balances included being held accountable for what employees underneath your jurisdiction may have done to harm the school’s financial wellbeing and image.

In other words, a good portion of the reason Pitino was fired – hiring people who didn’t have the university’s best interests at heart – is one of the main reasons Jurich was fired as well. He hired Pitino and is now on the hook for having, potentially, two major NCAA violations happen under his watch.

This is where Jurich’s leadership seemed to cease. As scandals mounted and things seemed to be spiraling out of control at UofL, plenty of opportunities arose for Jurich, the usually-unabashed leader, to take over a contentious press conference or a rocky board meeting.

Instead, Jurich took a back seat, leaving people like Ramsey, Postel, Pitino or contracted NCAA compliance expert Chuck Smrt to take the lead role, interjecting only when asked a specific question and, even then, sharing only brief responses, mostly.

But hey, if it was a press conference about a Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium expansion update or UofL’s now-ill-timed announcement of a $160 million apparel deal with the school, there was Jurich, front and center, salivating over a hot microphone, accepting rounds of applause and appreciation.

And, make no mistake, the fearless leader should be there telling us all about the good times.

The fearless leader should also be front and center when the university is in turmoil. The fans should have heard from him in those times before anyone else. They needed to.

Regardless, there are many out there who believe that Jurich has done nothing wrong, including many of the same media members who sold out to be mouthpieces for the university in exchange for job security.

Nevertheless, all the positive things that Jurich accomplished at the University of Louisville should, over time, supercede the damage he was, at best, complacent in helping prevent.

And I think they will. Down the road, when time heals the wounds, they’ll build a statue of him. And they should.

The constant reminder of Jurich’s footprint on this university is all up and down Floyd Street.

It never ends.


NEVERTHELESS, ALL THE POSITIVE THINGS THAT JURICH ACCOMPLISHED AT THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE SHOULD, OVER TIME, SUPERCEDE THE DAMAGE HE WAS, AT BEST, COMPLACENT IN HELPING PREVENT. AND I THINK THEY WILL. DOWN THE ROAD, WHEN TIME HEALS THE WOUNDS, THEY’LL BUILD A STATUE OF HIM. AND THEY SHOULD.

Want to find Zach on Twitter? Just follow @BigEZ.

Travis Jamison

The Beauty of Hunting

By Jim Biery

Man, do I miss watching cartoons on Saturday mornings and Elmer Fudd’s neverending quest to catch Bugs Bunny! It’s the classic tale of man in the wild trying to find food to provide for his family. Now, this classic cartoon did not come close to portraying such a life or death scenario that faced early settlers in America, but it did highlight that “wasically wabbit” and his ability to constantly out smart and completely frustrate a somewhat dimwitted hunter.

Modern day hunters enjoy much more success. Hunting for sport provides outdoor splendor and beauty that is unsurpassed and also provides for some very necessary population control that even the most animal-loving person has got to know and understand the importance of.

I’ll start by exposing a little known fact about myself: I have NEVER owned a gun in my life. I have never shot and killed anything. The closest I came was shooting at a squirrel with my brother’s Red Rider BB gun to get him (the squirrel, not my brother) out of the bird feeder. This was more of a warning shot than anything else. That soul-baring moment, however, does not mask my love for fresh game birds and rabbits, or deer to be grilled, smoked, roasted, or even made into a stew. When your choice of protein comes straight from the environment it lives in, you cannot have a healthier way to eat. Pure protein without chemicals, preservatives or steroids is wonderfully delicious.

I will also divulge that my first love is, and will always be, fishing. If you’ve ever had the chance to eat fresh caught crappie or bluegill lightly battered then fried in a cast iron skillet… people I am here to tell you, it is the best fish you will taste anywhere! That also includes salt water fish, salmon and trout from streams and rivers. It’s funny how when there is a very passionate argument about animal rights you don’t hear much about fish – weird.

The real focus I feel that should be looked at is the unbelievable damage and cost that these wild critters can cause. It would be hard to find anyone driving in the area that hasn’t seen a deer that has been hit by a vehicle. What is a sad end to such a beautiful animal’s life unfortunately can’t begin to equal the loss of money spent on vehicle repairs, insurance claims and even human life.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service notes that nationally wildlife cause $619 million in field crop damages and an additional $147 million in losses of fruit and nuts each year. The Kentucky State Police report the Insurance Institute estimates there are 1.6 million deer vs. vehicle collisions per year in the United States. That produces about $3.6 billion in vehicle damage cost.

A little closer to home, last year 15,924 acres were damaged in soybean fields in Indiana. Corn fields had 13,930 acres destroyed. That is a staggering amount of damage caused by various animals. Could you imagine how much more damage would be done if hunting wasn’t allowed, or how many vehicles would be wrecked if deer were allowed to breed out of control and constantly run onto roads and highways?

The non-monetary effects of hunting, though, are what I value the most. If you’ve never hunted before, one the best reasons for doing it is the sheer beauty that the fields and mountains can produce. Picture this in your mind: Sunlight reflects off the spider web-like grass that is wrapped in a thin layer of frost and light snow. The peacefulness and quiet is deafening as you slowly walk to your stand. Small song birds are darting around. You can see your breath with every exhale. The fallen leaves and grass that has become frozen crackle and crunch with every step. OK, sorry, I got a little deep there, but to be out in the woods, sitting and watching and listening to everything you see before you as the sun rises over the hills and trees is simply spectacular.

As the loyal Extol Sports readers know, I am big on traditions. For many hunters, that is also true. Their fathers were probably the first to take them out in the woods and teach them how to hunt and respect the land. Even though I don’t own a gun, one of the biggest traditions I share with my Dad and brother, and now my nephew, is hunting on Thanksgiving morning. You can’t put a price on that type of experience.

That is the pleasant and rewarding side of hunting. No matter what side of the fence you are on concerning hunting, for many hunting is a cherished family tradition. My buddy Tony hunted for years with his father. Recently, he lost his father but told me that some days when goes back to that deer stand in the tree, he doesn’t actually hunt. He will just sit there in the peacefulness and beauty of nature and think about all the great times he and his father had sitting together in that tree.


Travis Jamison

Travis Jamison

I HAVE NEVER OWNED A GUN IN MY LIFE. I HAVE NEVER SHOT AND KILLED ANYTHING. THE CLOSEST I CAME WAS SHOOTING AT A SQUIRREL WITH MY BROTHER’S RED RIDER BB GUN TO GET HIM (THE SQUIRREL, NOT MY BROTHER) OUT OF THE BIRD FEEDER.

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‘It’s Not Right, But It’s OK’

Padgett and the Cards making the best of an unfair situation

By Howie Lindsey of 790 KRD

To borrow a line from the legendary Whitney Houston, “It’s not right, but it’s OK….”

David Padgett and the Cardinals are going to make it anyway.

The situation Padgett and the Cardinals were handed wasn’t right – in fact it was extremely wrong: A 32-year old assistant coach being thrust into the head coaching spot, alone, at one of the most powerful programs in the nation? And the Cardinals were just days away from starting full-time practice for the season?

Oh, and by the way, he didn’t have a single other assistant coach for a week and didn’t have a full coaching staff until just a couple of weeks before the first game.

Padgett flew back to Louisville from an Orlando recruiting visit the day the scandal broke. He had to deal with coaching the team, talking to the press, encouraging his team during one of the most frustrating moments of their lives and trying to figure out who would help him moving forward. He did all this while trying to figure out the details of an unfolding FBI investigation that seemed to suggest a large portion of college basketball has a pay-for-play system.

With so much thrown on his plate, Padgett’s first thought had to be just get through the end of the day. He called on seniors Anas Mahmoud and Quentin Snider to help. The pair unfortunately had been through a scandal before.

“Unfortunately, they have experience dealing with adverse situations,” Padgett said. “… These guys have the unbelievable ability to not worry about what doesn’t really concern them. It’s amazing to see. It really is. Their concern is coming to practice and working and games.”

Padgett and the Cardinals focused on what they could control: themselves. In fact, the day after the FBI mess came down, the day that Rick Pitino was suspended, you might find it surprising that the team had a workout. But that’s what they did.

“Those were the toughest days,” Mahmoud told Courier Journal (formerly known as The Courier-Journal). “The first week overall was really tough for us to handle. You hear a lot of stuff from outsiders, and then you have to face what you know and what you think you know. … You read all the stories and you don’t know what’s true or not.”

Padgett focused the players in those early days after the scandal. He told them to work on their game. He established the Yum! Center practice facility on campus as a safe place where they could be sequestered from the cameras and reporters.

“Basketball is our escape,” Snider said.

“The way they’ve handled this whole thing has been unbelievable,” Padgett said. “I have a special group here. They want to work. They want to be good. I always tell them: I’m not going to get on you guys unless you give me a reason to. I just coach them according to how they’re playing that day.”

The team made it through those early days by sticking together. They started practicing, added a veteran coach to the staff in Trent Johnson and focused on their work. New assistants Greg Paulus and R.J. Evans were added about a week later and the routine of games helped bring some normalcy.

After Padgett and the Cardinals survived those first few weeks, they faced their first road test: a showdown at notoriously tough Mackey Arena vs. Top 25 Purdue. And it was brutal.

The team took the court for warm-ups as a crew of students in FBI t-shirts shouted jeers. The student section screamed insults about hookers and strippers and bags of money throughout the next three hours.

Louisville didn’t get a win at Purdue – too much foul trouble assured that, but they survived. And they went back to work. They won some home games, dropped a tough game to Seton Hall, but then they won their next road test vs. Memphis in Madison Square Garden.

And along the way, Padgett and the Cardinals shifted from survival mode to having fun again.

Padgett explained, “However long the season is, I want our players to enjoy it more than anything. Because I remember being a college basketball player; you only get however many years: four, sometimes five. You need to enjoy your season. This one, obviously, got off to a bit of a rocky start, but I just want to be sure they enjoy it however they can.”

And a funny thing happened to Padgett along the way. He found his voice as a coach.

Padgett joked early on that he couldn’t hack the acerbic, cutting style of Pitino. The players talked about him being more laid back, more fun in practice.

But about mid-December, Padgett told Paul Rogers, the play-by-play voice of the Cardinals, that he is more “intense” than he ever thought he would be. And Rogers confirmed that he and broadcast partner Bob Valvano started to see Padgett evolve from an assistant to an intense head coach as Louisville pushed through its December schedule.

Padgett, who even in late December was telling media he had no thoughts about trying to win the Louisville head coaching job long-term, was becoming his own style of coach.

“I mean, Coach Pitino’s one of a kind,” Padgett said. “And his style was obviously extremely successful, but with that being said, there’s more than one way to coach a basketball team, and I just need to coach this team the best way I see fit. Now, does that mean I’m going to be their best friend and Mr. Nice Guy every day? No, not even close. If I don’t think they’re doing what I expect or I demand, I’m going to let them know about it. And that’s been the biggest transition so far, me just going from the assistant coach, good-guy role to all of a sudden now, you know, and I don’t like the cliche ‘good-cop, bad-cop,’ but now, I’m not going to be their best friend every day anymore, because that’s what the assistant coaches are for.”

As Padgett found his style, the Cardinals found a new motivation in the doubts of others. They still believe they can be a great team.

“There’s nothing wrong with us,” Mahmoud told ESPN’s Jeff Borzello. “We lost our coach. I completely understand that people don’t know how good our team is going to be. It’s motivation for us to show people this team is still a national championship contender.”

To get there, Louisville will need to survive one of the toughest conference slates in Louisville history. The ACC could have eight, nine or even 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament this season.

But the good news is that perhaps no team in recent Louisville memory has had more potential than this one. Deng Adel could become every bit the star his former roommate Donovan Mitchell became last season. Ray Spalding has the potential to be a first-round draft pick with his incredible athleticism and length. Anas Mahmoud’s agility for a center of his height is incredible. And VJ King and Quentin Snider have the ability to score on every possession. And that’s not to mention the vast potential of Louisville’s strong freshman class.

We don’t know yet how good this Louisville team will be. But we do know that it is extraordinary that they are still together after all the grief, scandal and upheaval they have been through.

It’s not right, but it’s OK.

These Cardinals believe they are going to make it any way.


IN FACT, THE DAY AFTER THE FBI MESS CAME DOWN, THE DAY THAT RICK PITINO WAS SUSPENDED, YOU MIGHT FIND IT SURPRISING THAT THE TEAM HAD A WORKOUT. BUT THAT’S WHAT THEY DID.


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Grace Berger | High School Spotlight

screen-shot-2017-12-28-at-4-32-54-pmSacred Heart starter excelling early, excited about IU

By Daniel Karell

With Jaelynn Penn and Lindsey Duvall graduated, the baton for the best Louisville Metro-area girls basketball player has been passed to Grace Berger.

A four-year starter for Sacred Heart, Berger has raised her game to new levels in 2017. After leading the Valkyries to the Kentucky Sweet 16 in 2016, the 6 foot senior guard signed her Letter of Intent to play for Indiana University next fall (where she’ll team up with Penn) and has begun dominating the local circuit.

Through six games this season, Berger is averaging 16.3 points and eight rebounds per game, leading the Valkyries to a 5-1 record ahead of the team’s annual Christmas basketball road trip. Once again, Sacred Heart is heading to Phoenix, Arizona, for the Nike Tournament of Champions.

Ahead of the trip to Arizona, Daniel Karell of Extol Sports had a chance to talk to Berger about her career, how her season is going and what she’s looking forward to at Indiana. (Editor’s Note: The following has been edited solely for length and clarity.)

Extol Sports: Grace, thanks so much for speaking with us. What are your thoughts on the way Sacred Heart’s season is going so far?

Grace Berger: I think it’s going pretty well for being pretty early in the season. Obviously, we have stuff to work on as a team, but we can be beating teams pretty well. I think we’ve started off strong.

ES: How long have you been playing basketball?

GB: I’ve pretty much been around basketball all my life. Some of my earliest memories are playing basketball, just watching my older siblings (Abby and Jack) and my dad (Todd) outside shooting hoops, so I was always out there with them from the time I could walk. I think I pretty much played it to be like them when I first started, and then I fell in love with it.

ES: When did you realize you were good enough to play college basketball?

GB: I think probably when I started getting recruited, so like eighth grade, around there. The first coaching staff that I ever talked to was from Clemson in eighth grade. I didn’t even know what high school I was going to (at the time). I didn’t really think much of it, I didn’t think about college then. My parents and my coaches did a really good job (controlling the recruiting process) too.

ES: What did IU do to convince you to become a Hoosier?

GB: From the first time I stepped foot on campus I fell in love and felt really comfortable there. I fell in love with the school and just surrounding myself with great people, the coaches and other players too.

ES: Which coach has had the most influence on your career?

GB: I would have to say my dad (Todd, a St. Xavier High School graduate who played college basketball at Transylvania University). He’s had the biggest impact on me. He always coached me growing up and he’s always taking me outside and working on my dribbling and shooting one-on-one, too. He’s definitely been very influential.

ES: Every year you lead or are near the team-lead in rebounding for Sacred Heart, even though you’re a guard. How are you able to pull down so many rebounds?

GB: My dad has always really been on me about rebounds. He doesn’t really care about anything else but rebounding. I’m just really aggressive and if you try harder than the other team, you can get it, especially in high school.

ES: How influential has (Sacred Heart coach) Donna Moir been for your career?

GB: She obviously has a lot of experience and she’s taught me a lot for sure. She’s definitely developed me mentally in the way I think of the game and helped me with my skills and basketball IQ as well.

ES: After a frustrating sophomore season, the Valkyries turned the corner last season to become Seventh Region champions and make the Kentucky Sweet 16. What was that experience like?

GB: It was great but we lost the first round of state (Sacred Heart fell to fellow Louisville power Butler, 50-36), so that put a damper on things. But it was definitely a good experience and I think we’re excited to carry that momentum into this season and take what we could have done differently last season to a state champ this year.

ES: What part of your game did you work on the most this offseason?

GB: I’d say catch and shoot, especially 3-pointers, because I didn’t do a very good job last season, I had a low percentage. That was the area of my game where I felt I had to improve and it’s working so far.

ES: Has Indiana women’s basketball coach Teri Moren and her staff been in touch about what they want you to improve on as well?

GB: Definitely, three pointers was something they pointed out to me, too, and just getting stronger and better overall.

ES: With Sacred Heart another year older and one of the most experienced teams in the state, do you feel the Valkyries are strong enough to make a deep run at the Kentucky Sweet 16?

GB: I think we’re the best team in the state, I think we have the most experience and when we’re playing together, I don’t think there’s many teams that can beat us. So, I think we have a good chance.

ES: Looking ahead, what are your plans for when you’ll finally head to Bloomington, and what are you most looking forward to?

GB: I think I’ll leave in June and do summer workouts for a couple of weeks. I’m just looking forward to being surrounded by great people every day. I think they’re going to make me better on and off the court, and it’s just going to be a lot of fun to be around them.

ES: Last thing. Is it motivating to see Penn starting and playing so well at Indiana as a freshman (Penn has started all 10 of Indiana’s games, averaging 10 points, six rebounds and two assists per game)?

GB: Yeah, I hope to have as good a start as Jaelynn has. I’m just really looking forward to learning from her and playing with her.


screen-shot-2017-12-28-at-4-34-40-pm“FROM THE FIRST TIME I STEPPED FOOT ON INDIANA UNIVERSITY’S CAMPUS, I FELL IN LOVE AND FELT REALLY COMFORTABLE THERE. I FELL IN LOVE WITH THE SCHOOL AND JUST SURROUNDING MYSELF WITH GREAT PEOPLE, THE COACHES AND OTHER PLAYERS TOO.” – GRACE BERGER


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Regardless Of Your Thoughts On Pitino, He Is Missed Right Now

screen-shot-2017-12-05-at-4-10-36-pmBy Zach McCrite 

I already miss Rick Pitino. Truly, I do.

This is to say nothing negative towards David Padgett, the interim head coach of the University of Louisville basketball team. He’s a fine man in a precarious spot.

I’m also not implying that Rick Pitino should still be the coach of the Cardinals.

No matter how much he knew or didn’t know about multiple (let that sink in: multiple), program- and university-staining scandals, the way he accepted basically zero responsibility for them other than “making two bad hires,” as he once admitted, was icky enough, if you ask me.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not missing him.

Here we are in December – a month where Louisville will take on both Indiana and Kentucky –and we’re not going to get any of the fun stuff to which we have become accustomed.

No longer are we going to get the numerous sideline animations that we were so used to seeing. The yelling at the players from the other side of the court. The seemingly video-game like pointing, pulling and raising of the arms to try to get the kids to do exactly as he pictures in his mind.

I will miss the times he got down on one knee when things seemed relatively comfortable during the game. The classic hands-behind-the-back move when he needed to say something that wasn’t necessarily angelic, let’s say.

Some of his most memorable games as a coach are etched in my memory forever, too.

I will miss how he guided the most unbelievable tournament comeback I can ever recall, when the 4-seed Cards were down 20 to 8-seed West Virginia in the 2005 Elite 8. The Mountaineers went an earth-shattering 18-of-27 from 3-point range and Pitino somehow figured out a way to get his crew to claw all the way back and win that NCAA Regional Final in Albuquerque.

And the press conferences. Oh, the press conferences.

Just at Louisville, he answered longtime WAVE 3 sports anchor Bob Domine’s phone at a press conference and had a conversation with someone on the other end who apparently wanted to meet for a drink.

Or the time when he spoke out about the Karen Sypher extortion case and told the fans that “we need to get onto the important things in life – like the economy.”

The best of Rick Pitino came a little later in that day when he blamed the media for providing coverage of a Sypher interview on a day that the rest of the nation mourned… I guess.

“Everything that’s been printed, everything that’s been reported, everything that’s been breaking in the news on the day Ted Kennedy died is 100 percent a lie, a lie,” Pitino said (italic emphasis added).

That’s so great!

Or when former Notre Dame coach and ESPN analyst Digger Phelps said in 2013 that no No. 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament was going to make the Final Four and Rick Pitino called him out at a press conference saying, “All you have to do is (predict against) Digger, and you got a great chance of winning, because he’s never right. That’s why keeping winning… . He knows nothing.” Awesome. By the way, Rick was right. Louisville went on to win the national championship*.

Even the non-press conferences were awesome. I’m referring, of course, to the times where he would lose to John Calipari and the University of Kentucky and just wouldn’t show up at the podium. A mad Pitino was a great Pitino at the microphone…at least when he showed up.

And then there are the memorable times before he even got to the podium, like when he made some sort of gesture to Wildcats fans as he walked off the Rupp Arena floor and though the tunnel. Perhaps he was just scratching his head. Or perhaps it was a ‘bird’ of some sort.

Speaking of Calipari, Pitino’s collisions with him are legendary. No matter how much the two tried to sugarcoat it to their respective local media, the relationship between the two never seemed to be anything better than adversarial at best.

When the annual UofL vs. UK game came around, the two were always asked about it. They would always downplay it. Calipari seemed to come the closest to coming clean about their connection. “I mean, look, we’re 90 miles away from each other and at competitive, rival schools,” Calipari said before their last meeting against each other one year ago this month. “You know, it’s hard to send each other Christmas cards. It is what is.”

Sadly, we must correct that last sentence now. It was what it was. And it was awesome.

The good news for Pitino in the rivalry? Even though Calipari was 8-2 against Pitino during their rivalry, ol’ Rick P got the last laugh in a 73- 70 win over Cal. He got the last laugh.

But, sadly, that’s not the image many will remember.

In fact, the last image we have of him truly representing the University of Louisville is in a super-show-off-your-muscles-and-nipples type Lamar Jackson jersey on College Gameday back when ESPN thought Cardinal Football was a title contender.

There’s something funny about that, even if you’re a diehard Cards fan – this is the last moment Pitino publicly represented this iniversity in a proud way. It’s OK to chuckle. It’s almost therapeutic. It’s cathartic.

There’s zero doubt that he’s one of the smartest X-and-O basketball coaches of our lifetime. And, no matter who replaces him at UofL permanently, it’s going to be tough to replicate that intelligence.

And the bravado. Definitely the bravado.

I miss Rick PItino. At least on the court and at the podium. And it’s starting to hit me right now.

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ON THE VERGE OF SOMETHING SPECIAL

BY JEFF NUNN OF CARDINALSPORTSZONE.COM

Head coach Jeff Walz and his lady Cards are coming off another trip to the sweet 16. It was their seventh straight year making the NCAA tournament and ninth out of the ten years that Jeff Walz has been coaching at Louisville. And it appears that they are poised for what could be a very special year. Another sweet sixteen appearance will not be considered a successful year. This team has title aspirations and they are on a mission.

The lady Cards finished the 2016-17 season with a 29-8 record. From that team, they return their top two scorers, Asia Durr and Myisha Hines-Allen, along with 2 juniors, 4 sophomores and the 4th ranked recruiting class. Gone from last season are starters Mariya Moore (12.0 ppg), Briahanna Jackson (6.1ppg) and Corinne Walton (2.6ppg).

But the most important returning piece to this steaming freight train is their engine, Head Coach Jeff Walz.

There were many rumors circulating around Louisville that if Athletic Director Tom Jurich was let go, many of the coaches he hired would soon leave as well. Walz put that fear to rest at the annual women’s basketball Tip Off Luncheon where he said he would be remiss if he didn’t “give a shout out to Tom” because 11 years ago he “sold me on the University of Louisville – sold me on what this place could become as a women’s basketball program.”

Walz also said he is forever grateful to Jurich for giving him the opportunity and that he wasn’t leaving because “Tom sold me on Louisville – not Tom – on Louisville, because that’s what he cared about.”

Walz went on to say that “Louisville is home to me” and “I plan to retire here or get fired here. It’s one or the other.”

Walz is the winningest coach in Louisville women’s program history with a 263-93 (.739) record. Louisville had never won 30 games in a season in its previous 32 years. Walz coached Louisville to a program-record 34 victories in 2008-09 and then 33 wins in 2013-14.

He has two national runner-up finishes (2009, 2013), three Elite Eight appearances (2009, 2013, 2014), seven trips to the Sweet 16 and nine NCAA Tournament appearances in his 10 years at Louisville. I have been on record saying that I believe Walz will win a national title in the next three years and multiple titles before he retires. Could this be the year?

It doesn’t hurt that Walz has two of the ESPN Top 25 women’s basketball players for 2017-18 season on his team. Junior Asia Durr comes in at No. 7 on the list while senior Myisha Hines-Allen is ranked No. 24.

Durr, who averaged 19.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals last season as a sophomore, was the highest-rated recruit to sign at Louisville in school history. In her sophomore year, she was voted to the all-ACC Tournament first team, selected to the Blue Ribbon Panel and coaches’ all-ACC first team, named to the Naismith Trophy Top 30, which recognizes the national player of the year, and the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25. She also was selected to the midseason list for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s player of the year honor. Durr also became Louisville’s 28th 1,000-point scorer and broke the program’s single-season record with 119 3-pointers.

Entering her junior year, she has been selected as the 2017-18 Atlantic Coast Conference Preseason Player of the Year, as voted on by the league’s coaches. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced that Durr is one of 20 watch list candidates for the 2018 Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, which is an annual award that recognizes the top shooting guard in women’s NCAA Division I college basketball. She was also named to the College Sports Madness Preseason All-American Team. It appears that she is going to have a great year and is already a professional level talent.

Myisha Hines-Allen is entering her senior season as a woman on a mission. She is a physical inside player who will work the perfect inside-outside game with Durr. She will be a major factor in the success of this team as well as being counted on as the team leader.

As a sophomore, Hines-Allen was named ACC Player of the Year, averaging 17.6 points on 54.7 percent shooting and 8.4 rebounds. As a junior, she only averaged 13.9 points as teams began to game plan around her, but that allowed her to learn how to become an even better rebounder. She also had 17 double-doubles, which ranked 12th in the country.

Coach Walz has said that she has often started the season off slowly only to pick it up as the season goes along. If they want to be a great team, she has to bring it from the start.

It appears as though Hines-Allen has received the message as she enters the season in the best shape of her career at Louisville. She also has worked hard on becoming more efficient with her mid-range shot.

While Louisville’s success will rely heavily on its two leaders, it will also need a lot of steady contributions from junior Sam Fuehring and sophomores Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook.

The Cards have four sophomores who saw the court last season, and they will all need to take a step forward to help develop the depth required to make a deep tournament run. They also have three very talented freshmen who are capable of playing major minutes right away. This deep team may not need them to contribute early, but I’m sure Coach Walz will find minutes for them so he can add even more weapons to his arsenal.

Louisville entered the season ranked 9th in the first preseason Associated Press poll. Personally, I believe they are a top 5 team, but it doesn’t matter what I think because they will have a chance to prove it. They face a very tough schedule with six non-conference opponents who reached the NCAA Tournament last year, five of them before conference play begins. The other being nemesis UCONN, whom the Cards will play on Feb. 12 in Connecticut.

If the Cards want to make a run to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, for the 2018 NCAA Final Four, they must have their stars be stars, they must develop the sophomores, they must cut down the turnovers (14.2 per game last season), improve free throws (69.2 percent last season) and, finally, they must bring it every game.

I feel very confident about the stars and the sophomores. Improved guard play will help cut down on the turnovers, and word on the street is that they have been in the gym working hard on their shooting. If Coach Walz can convince them to bring it every game, then this team is on the verge of something special.