Tag Archives: sports

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EDITOR’S NOTE | February 2018

By Angie Fenton

Photo by Christian Watson

screen-shot-2018-01-31-at-2-02-37-pmOne of the best aspects about being the editor of a publication is getting to know the people and places writers and photographers highlight. Sometimes, though, it’s also getting to know the individuals who pen and capture the stories.

I had no idea until this issue was being produced that writer Remy Sisk felt comfortable on the slopes – he skis routes most of us will never traverse. Thankfully, Remy and his friends accepted the opportunity to enjoy Paoli Peaks shortly after a snow storm hit Southern Indiana and Louisville for this issue’s cover story. Remy’s article is a fund read – ride – and I hope it encourages even the rookies among us to put Paoli Peaks on our must-experience stops this winter.

The University of Louisville continues to dominate headlines and not always in ways that are positive, so I hope my fellow Cardinal lovers and sports fans in general will appreciate Jeff Nunn’s piece about the all-star women’s basketball team led by Coach Walz.

If you’re seeking a bit of inspiration, check out this month’s INSPIRE subject, Shannon Burton. She is proof that strong is beautiful. And Jeffersonville High School’s innovative approach to helping young athletes get stronger is a power read, too.

If you made a New Year’s commitment to get in shape but failed like so many of us do, check out Health Corner. It’s not too late to start anew.

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PUMPING IRON AND BUILDING ATHLETES

Jeffersonville High School takes different approach to weightlifting

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Story and photos by Jen McNelly

It’s 7:45 AM at Jeffersonville High School and the first bell rings. A group of students shuffle into the weight room. It’s early. Some kids choose to snooze during first period, but not these students. They are ready to attack the day with full force.

“Alright, focus!” yells coach Daniel Struck, right after instructions are given. The music starts and the lifting begins.

Struck, now entering his 15th year of teaching and coaching at Jeffersonville High School, has created a program that takes a different approach to weightlifting. They call it Jeff Sports Performance.

The fully-stocked weight room is equipped with free weights, squat racks, landmines, benches and much more to fit the needs of athletes. “When I first started here, everything in this weight room was broken. It looked like a yard sale. So, what did I do? We literally had a yard sale to get rid of it,” explains Struck. “A lot of other sports and programs have come together to help donate and pay for the equipment that we have here right now.” screen-shot-2018-01-31-at-2-47-22-pm

Students involved in Jeff Sports Performance lift five days a week for the 180 days of school. The program caters to every sport in various different ways.

Brandon Wellington, a senior who recently signed on to play football at the University of Louisville, first heard about the class when he was in middle school. “I knew that I needed to get bigger to play football and I didn’t have much experience in weightlifting. This class was perfect to get me started and has been really convenient because I don’t have that much time after school.”

Athletes from the class have gone on to not only play sports but can be found in every single branch of the armed forces. “We have had athletes from this class score the highest in the PT (physical training) scores in their basic training classes, as well as athletes come back from big programs and say ‘I was the only freshman able to go straight into weightlifting with the older guys because I already understood and performed all the lifts correctly,’” says Struck. “I’ve had college coaches ask what we do and send them videos on what we are doing, but it’s hard to capture unless you are here.”

As a multi-athlete and wrestling coach, Struck has traveled to 23 different countries, “grabbing ideas” from professionals everywhere. “One of the most widely used methods to increase athleticism at many of the world’s Olympic Training Centers has been gymnastics. So, we copy that. It’s really cool. We’ll start off day one with maybe one or two kids that can do a backflip and end the year with maybe 30 or 40 kids that can do a back flip. It’s a huge confidence builder for them. I have offensive and defensive linemen that can do flips. It’s pretty awesome to watch.”

This unique program also has aided in unifying the school. “It has helped to get all sports on one program keeping their progress year-round instead of switching programs every time they switch sports,” Struck explains. “Typically, we start class celebrating what kids in all sports have done, how the weekend went, spotlighting kids and letting each sport know how other sports are doing.”

“You’re a team here,” says Ethan English, a senior who play baseball for Indiana Wesleyan. “It’s not like baseball team, football team, basketball team – it’s the whole school. When you’re working out with other teammates, it makes you just want to be better. We represent Jeff High. I really look forward to that every day.”

“We’re all working together,” Wellington adds. “When you see one person hit their max, you’re just hyped for them. Even if you didn’t hit your max, it doesn’t matter. This class is helping us all get bigger and better.”

However, unlike most weightlifting classes in high school, Jeff Sports Performance is about far more than just lifting weights.

“One of the things that sets this class apart is how we work on the entire person,” says Struck. “The weightlifting or sport is what we have in common, but we come together to try and create better futures for the kids.”

Every nine weeks, students are required to write three colleges – that makes 12 colleges per year with a total of more than 48 colleges over four years. “Most kids write more, though,” says Struck, “and it works. That’s one of the biggest draws to the class – learning to market yourself to colleges.”

Jaylynn Brown, also a senior who will be on the women’s basketball team at Lincoln Trail College, says writing colleges is her favorite part of the class. “There are millions of athletes who don’t get to play Division I sports after high school, but you get a chance to make it happen for yourself in this class.”

Not every student wants to go to college to play sports, and that’s alright. “But I guarantee they save that college letter,” Struck says. “Just the simple feeling of knowing that they are wanted by someone else outside of here makes a big difference in their life, so we make a really big deal of it when a student hears back from a college. It just really feels good.”

Struck also understands the importance of character development by teaching students how to be coachable, work with others and simply be the best person they can be. In a society where high school students are prone to determine self-worth by the number of likes they get on social media, Jeff Sports Performance has been a big confidence booster to many students.

Struck keeps track of every student’s personal weight-lifting goals. “I work hard to make sure they reach their goals, and I’ll push them. We make a big deal when they get it. It’s really cool to see when a kid reaches their max. Their confidence goes way up.”

To deal with everyday stress and anxiety of teenage life, Struck has worked yoga and meditation into the curriculum as well. “Recent new back pain has really got me into yoga, so I’ve started to do yoga with our athletes here. … Learning to move your body without weight is more important than learning to move big weight with an unathletic body. As for meditation, learning to meditate, to think and be by yourself can really help with what some students deal with each day.”

So, what does Coach Struck hope his students will remember most from their time at Jeff Sports Performance? “More than anything, I want to them to know that you can be good at multiple things.”

At the end of every class period, Struck and his students can be found chanting “Every day!”

“It’s a reminder to them that every day you have to do something to get better,” says Struck.

Follow Jeff Sports Performance – @jeffsportsperfo – on their Instagram page.

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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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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.

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Crash the Class

B.YOU Bounce Class

We wanted to know why so many people are raving about B.You’s bouncing approach to fitness. So, we recently crashed a B.Bounce class held at the New Albany location.

“Bouncing – aka rebounding – is widely used across the world in physical therapy clinics because it is a perfect way to increase core strength, improve posture, strengthen muscles and improve coordination while keeping your joints safe from injury,” says B.You.

The class “takes all of these benefits and combines them with intense choreography, fun lighting and killer music for an exhilarating cardiovascular fitness class. You will burn a tremendous amount of calories, be drenched in sweat, have a smile on your face and be ready to come back for more.”

Sign us up! (No, we’re not kidding; we signed up because we had to try it for ourselves.)


B.You302 Pearl St.New AlbanyByoufitness.com

*B.You also has Louisville locations in St. Matthews and Springhurst. You also can find the fitness studio on social media.


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Stressed Out

You’ve read about how busy is our family, and, if you’re feeling that hustle and bustle is a recurring theme in our household, you’re spot on.

It’s a way of life for us and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. We work at streamlining the stress when we can but, admittedly, we often become overwhelmed. This month, FamFitter begins a short series acknowledging the effects stress can have on family mental health and, more specifically, exploring proactive ways to help alleviate pressures and positively cope.

Stress affects each member of our clan a bit differently. Among us are criers, yellers, shutter-downers and lasher-outers. We’re individuals with separate triggers, so, when exploring healthy ways to manage, we wanted to address individual needs. Adversely, we are always in search of a approaches that are as comprehensive as possible, because it makes implementation much less complicated.

We decided to do a bit of research and ask the advice of a couple of locally-based experts. This month, we chose to focus on the concept of visualization.

Our Family Stress Dynamic

We don’t hate being busy. We admit we made our lives into this hectic little jumble, and we honestly enjoy most every facet of our lifestyle. Still, with two full-time jobs, serving on community boards and committees, church activities, school functions, volunteer obligations and all of the numerous tasks that go into raising four additionally-busy young humans, Mom and Dad are overwhelmed more often than we want to admit. And we’re not the most gracefully-stressed parents on the planet. In our household, short tempers do flare from time to time. Anxieties become a little too-close to sheer, unnecessary panic (Mom) and stresses can manifest into moody passive-aggression (Dad).

Our two oldest children, 15 and almost 13, are no strangers to pressure. Because they both are involved in school sports, student government and are conscientious with academics, their personal stress levels are often significant. Syd becomes overwhelmed and moody. Eli tends to be a bundle of nerves and has trouble keeping his thoughts focused. Both experience anxiety that sometimes hinders them at school and sports, and often affects their ability to get a good night’s sleep.

Our younger two are a bit more sheltered from personal stresses, although most recently our 9-year-old has been struggling at school, and those struggles have led to meltdowns and even shutdowns.

As a whole, we all often experience lack of focus and sometimes, an inability to relax. Of course, personal stress in a household of six (or any household, for that matter) creates webs of stress in which other members inevitably become entangled. We’re no exception; most times, if one of us is exhibiting signs of being overwhelmed, the others are affected.

Exploring Visualization

We’ve read a bit about the benefits of visualization as it relates to many of the areas in which we struggle. On a quest to learn more about it, we spoke with Dr. Randy Schrodt of Integrative Psychiatry, who has worked with a wide range of individuals, including adolescents and athletes. The Louisville-based (but nationally-and internationally-renowned) psychiatrist said, “Visualization can be a useful tool for adults and adolescents alike. Desired outcomes range from improved sports and academic performance to increased concentration and self-discipline. And it doesn’t stop there.”

Dr. Schrodt explained that practicing visualization not only helps to create a mental picture, but can also condition one’s mind and allow the individual to achieve and remain “in the zone” when participating in a task or experience. While the role of visualization varies from person to person, the benefits can be vast. Say a student athlete is utilizing the practice of visualization in order to stay focused while testing as well as on the ball field. By training his/her brain in these areas, that same student is also likely to experience improvement in other areas as well.

“Ultimately, visualization allows the individual the improved ability to remain ‘in the zone’ and this concept then increases their ability to relax and to enjoy experiences more deeply as well,” Dr. Schrodt added.

Further discussion with Dr. Schrodt brought to light the added benefits of anxiety relief, improved sleep and relaxation as well as increased productivity. In addition, we learned that a second-person perspective is ineffective and that, when creating a mental picture for a desired outcome, first-person perspective is key.

“For instance, if Eli is wanting to improve something, let’s say, his free-throw shot. … He needs to be able to visualize how that successful shot looks from his own personal perspective, rather than a birds-eye or even a spectator’s point of view. And this translates into any area where you want to see results … anxiety management, test-taking, personal focus.”

Trying it Out

Energized from the ideas we discovered by speaking with Dr. Schrodt, we wanted to explore and put into practice some different visualization efforts. We read several articles on the subject and found some basic methods we could implement into our schedules without consuming too much precious time.

It seems practicing visualization can be as simple as lying down or sitting comfortably in a quiet space and simply imagining with some focus. This can be done as often as one wishes, but even just once per day for a few minutes has been proven in clinical studies to be beneficial to one’s mental health. We did, however, want to delve just a bit deeper.

Because children are naturally imaginative, they are very receptive to the concept of creative imagery. We decided to start with our kiddos and, for the younger two, we downloaded an app that walks them through basic imagery and relaxation exercises. There are several different programs to choose from, none that are over 10 minutes in length. These are easy, fun and geared toward increasing self-esteem, body awareness and bedtime relaxation.

For the older two, we found a program that uses visualization in combination with other, similar techniques to bring awareness to a variety of personal goals, and gives them tools to organize, maintain focus and manage anxieties. Interestingly, after previewing it with them, we’ve found that it may be just as helpful for Mom and Dad to utilize. We’ll highlight some results in next month’s column (we’ve only just begun to test it out), but the first exercise in itself, geared toward clearing the mind, was interesting and we’d thought we’d mention it here.

Sitting at a keyboard, we set a timer and, for 15 minutes, we type whatever enters our minds. Anything at all, no proper grammar or spelling worries, raw and uncensored – just typing out the cycle of thoughts that occur in the timeframe. Next, we read what we wrote and make a list of the important items that stand out. After that, a check mark is placed next to any item that is out of our control or cannot be helped. (Side note: Listing these uncontrollable items and discarding them turned out to be a cathartic physical representation of things in which we need mental peace.) Finally, the remaining ideas are addressed and basic notes are made concerning ways to address each one.

Overall, this initial exercise seemed to lighten the load a little in terms of current stressers, even if just for a short time. However, we’re excited to continue these simple practices and see where they lead us. We’re hoping to experience some of the benefits we’ve learned can be the positive result of mindful visualization. We’ll let you know how it goes.


“AMONG US ARE CRIERS, YELLERS, SHUTTER-DOWNERS AND LASHER-OUTERS.”

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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Thabane Sutu’s Winding, Winning Path

The path to American second division soccer for players and coaches alike is usually a long and winding one. That goes tenfold for Thabane Sutu, the accomplished yet unassuming goalkeeper coach for Louisville City FC.

BY KEVIN KERNEN | PHOTOS COURTESY EM DASH PHOTOGRAPHY

A native of Lesotho, a country of two million and about the size of Maryland, Thabane Sutu comes from modest South Africa beginnings.

One of two sons to a nurse and civil servant, he had his fair share of chores to do around the house before he could play soccer in the streets after school days, something that all boys would join in on. While he had a comparatively comfortable childhood, Sutu didn’t start playing organized soccer until he was spotted by South African coaching legend and then-Lesotho National coach April “Styles” Phumo at age 15, when the coach founded an amateur team, Arsenal FC, in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru.

After school they would train in the national stadium; it was a side project for Phumo. It was here Sutu cultivated a dream to go on and play professionally, not something many Lesotho players had the opportunity to do. His Arsenal team had to begin play at the third and bottom rung of the completely amateur soccer pyramid in Lesotho before quickly gaining promotion to the premier A Division in 1988.

While cutting a swath through the ranks of Mosotho soccer, Arsenal gained a reputation as a hard, grafting team and were disliked amongst the rest of the established soccer guard. Sutu was an important part of the team, although not usually the best or most physically gifted player on the pitch, he was a student of the game and always eager to learn, a trait he has yet to lose.

Sutu was part of the Arsenal team that ran roughshod over Lesotho soccer and won the Lesotho top flight in 1989, 1991 and 1993, and they claimed the domestic cup twice in his career there. With this success, came continental competition in the African Cup of Champions (equivalent to UEFA’s Champions League) and in the African Cup Winners’ Cup (comparable to the secondary UEFA Europa League). The 1993 Cup Winners’ Cup campaign would prove to be a turning point for Sutu.

Coming from such a small and unproven soccer playing nation, Arsenal had to win a qualifying home and away series in order to join the continents’ elite clubs in the competition proper. Their first matchup was against Mozambique title holders Clube de Gaza, in which Arsenal stole a 2-2 draw away from home and earned a 1-1 tie on home soil to advance on goal differential, a massive upset in the competition for an amateur team.

The result saw the Lesotho minnows drawn against Egyptian giants Al-Ahly in the succeeding round of 16, a gargantuan task. Arsenal were staring down an impossible game, but went out and still performed admirably, miraculously only conceding a single goal at home, largely thanks to what Sutu called one of his best performances as a player. At that moment, Al-Ahly was looking for a goalkeeper to backup club stalwart and national goalkeeper Ahmed Shobeir, and after a yeoman’s effort in the first leg, Al-Ahly took a closer look at Sutu. during their reception for Arsenal in the run-up to the decisive second leg, they gauged his interest, something that took Sutu off guard.

“I didn’t know how to react (to) something that had never happened before. I was thinking ‘Wow, all the things that I had been dreaming about have literally just happened right here, right now.’ ”

He didn’t give them a commitment in Egypt that day, however, because he needed to speak with his coach and family back home.

Sutu signed with the 39-time league champs on June 23, 1993, realizing his childhood dream.

It was a big change for the young man from South Africa going from playing in front of a few thousand in his native land to training in front of 20,000 people and playing in front of attendances that regularly pushed six digits, not to mention adjusting to an entirely different culture and language. The biggest club in all of Africa and the Middle Eastern soccer world, Al-Ahly has no fewer than 100 trophies in their cabinet from domestic and continental competitions, and maintained a high level of excellence in part thanks to their manager, Englishman Allan Harris. Bringing his experience as a player with more than 300 games of experience in English football and also serving as an assistant under Terry Venables at league-winning Barcelona, Harris would influence Sutu’s coaching acumen more than any other figure. Although he never quite broke through to the first team, Sutu did gain dozens of starts for the Egyptian giants.

During this exciting time, Sutu captained the Lesotho national team as well, racking up nearly 30 caps between 1994 and 1997. Where the most senior player generally assumes the captaincy, Sutu gained the armband in a more unexpected way. In an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier 1994 against a Cameroon team fresh off a World Cup showing in the United States, and after a long flight from Cairo to Johannesburg, Sutu made his way back to Lesotho to find the national players in a dispute with the national association over unpaid stipends. Despite Cameroon already being in Lesotho, the game was at grave risk of being called off, something that wasn’t unheard of in the cobbled-together nature of soccer in the region at the time. Not one to waste his long journey home, Sutu brokered a deal between the association and the players to split the gate receipts, and as a result of his work between the players and the association, he was handed the captain’s armband, all of this before the match even transpired. The game was a shock 2-0 win for the hosts, a result that Sutu says was the proudest of his four-year tenure between the posts for his national team.

After a respectable excursion abroad, Thabane decided to hang up his gloves in 1998 and return to his roots at Arsenal to coach the nation’s top youth prospects, something he knew he wanted to do the duration of his career. The move meant he was closer to his eventual wife, Motselisi, whom he met the previous year. The daughter of a Presbyterian ministry director, Motselisi found herself back and forth between Lesotho and Louisville, Kentucky, where her father studied. After several month of coaching in 1998, and after long consideration, Sutu left his position in the Basotho national setup coaching youth prospects to move to the U.S. with his soon-to-be wife and to study exercise science at the University of Louisville, a move he would reflect on as a great decision.

Despite leaving all of his accomplishments and notoriety a continent behind, Sutu would return to the coaching ranks soon enough. He joined the Trinity High School coaching staff in 2000 after he was spotted playing pickup soccer one day in Seneca park and played briefly for a local team, the Cosmos. He moved on to local youth team United 1996 FC the following year, after he was brought on by Founder/Director Mohamed Fazlagic, where Sutu still holds the position of technical director.

Fast forward almost 15 years: Sutu was invited to talk to the representatives of the newest USL-Pro team, Louisville City FC, looking to start play in 2015. GM Bjorn Bucholtz and Head Coach James O’Connor were looking for a goalkeeping coach. The initial talks were more informal, with O’Connor and Sutu feeling out each other’s coaching philosophy. Sutu was asked back for a more formal interview along with a couple of other goalkeeping coaches, and Sutu won the job. He slotted into the coaching setup well, joining Daniel Byrd as the third member of the staff, satisfied with the established hierarchy.

In addition to being the goalkeeping coach for Louisville City FC and technical director at United 1996 FC, he also holds the position of co-head coach at Louisville Collegiate High School.

What a winding path indeed.

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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.