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Following ‘dark week,’ new Louisville coach Padgett vows to move forward, get team back to work

By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

University of Louisville assistant coach David Padgett was named the Cardinals’ acting head coach for the 2017-18 season, as reported earlier by Kentucky Today, to replace Rick Pitino, who has essentially been fired.

The announcement was made by UofL interim president Greg Postel at a press conference late Friday afternoon.

At 32, Padgett becomes one of the youngest head coaches in Division I after having played and coached under Pitino, and he is only the third coach in 47 years for Louisville.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino talks to David Padgett during an NCAA East Regional final basketball game in Charlotte, N.C. Louisville has named assistant David Padgett as the interim replacement for men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino, staying in-house to maintain continuity in the wake of a nationwide federal investigation of college basketball

“It’s been a crazy 72 hours,” said Padgett, who went on to repeat a number of times that he is focused entirely on the 14 players on the Cardinals’ roster and trying to ensure their success.

“It’s been a dark week at UofL, there’s no other thing to say about that,” he added. “It’s been very trying for a lot of people; it’s been a tough week. But we’re getting through it, putting our head down and going back to work. We look forward to moving forward and continuing to have great success.”

Postel said the factors he took into consideration in naming Padgett included high-quality leadership “for what promises to be an outstanding team,” and making sure the players know they’re going to have “excellent coaching and a stable environment.”

“David is known by all as a hard worker,” Postel said. “He’s known as a team player, often playing when he was working through personal injuries, and he was viewed by his fellow players as a coach on the floor.”

Padgett had the support of the players, with captains Anas Mahmoud, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel meeting with Postel on Friday to make it clear they wanted him to step in for Pitino.

Senior center Anas Mahmoud, one of the team captains, said the players had a meeting and decided they wanted Padgett to be their coach. He said he and the other captains, senior Quentin Snider and junior Deng Adel, first went to assistant athletic director for media relations Kenny Klein, who handles men’s basketball, to express their support for Padgett.

Klein then set up a meeting with Postel.

“We knew it wasn’t our call, but we wanted our voice to be heard,” Mahmoud said. “One of the reasons we wanted DP is there wouldn’t be a whole lot of changes. It’s late, there’s only two days until we start practice and we didn’t want anything else to distract us even more. If you bring in a new coach with a whole new philosophy, we didn’t want that to happen because we didn’t have time to learn it.”

Adel and Snider said the Cards, especially the older players, have a good relationship with their new head coach.

“We can approach him easily with any concerns,” Adel said. “We feel he’s a player’s coach.”

Said Snider: “Basically, everybody is just comfortable with DP. That’s the main thing. I’ve known him since I was a little kid coming to camp here.

Nevertheless, Mahmoud said the Cards will miss Pitino.

“We’ve spent a lot of time with him,” Mahmoud said. “This is not something that is easy on him or us. He’s dealing with a lot of stuff and God help him.”

At the last team meeting Pitino attended on Wednesday after he was suspended, Mahmoud said the coach was no different than usual.

“He talked, he was smiling, sarcastic,” Mahmoud said. “It was short and it wasn’t anything deep. He told us it was a pleasure coaching you guys, things like that.”

There was no word at the press conference about how much help Padgett will have as he takes charge of the team. Fellow assistants Kenny Johnson and Jordan Fair face possible problems from the ongoing FBI investigation into a pay-for-play scheme and Padgett referred to being shorthanded for a while when preseason practice starts Sunday.

“That’s a decision that might not be solely based on me,” Padgett said. “We’ve got to wait and figure it out when an athletic director is named.”

Postel said he expects to have an interim AD in place by early next week.

Padgett said his goal is to help the Cards “have a basketball season as normal as possible,” but admitted that won’t be an easy task.

“It’s going to be a challenge, no question,” he said. “It’s going to be there all season and it will be quite a distraction. But we’re going to deal with it, be positive about it every day and go out and win as many games as we can.”

Padgett said he has talked to the players and their parents over the past two days trying to answer their questions and calm their fears, and he praised the Cards’ attitude in dealing with the upheaval.

“I care deeply about this city and this university,” he said. “But at the end of the day what it comes down to is the 14 guys in our locker room. They’ve had a tough, tough couple of days, but they’re the reason I’m here. I want to do this for these players. I’m not looking past anything except the next 6-7-8 months of trying to have as great a season we can have because these kids deserve it.

“This is a unique group and they’re very resilient. I can’t say enough about these kids’ character and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such enthusiasm.”

Padgett also made a plea for Louisville fans to support the current team with as much fervor as they have backed past teams.

“I told the guys that I know how our fans are,” he said. “I told them they want to see great effort, they want you to handle yourselves in a professional manner and they want you to succeed. If you do those things this city will absolutely rally around you like never before. And they need that support and love from this city.”

Padgett didn’t try to play down his relationship with Pitino. He said he last spoke to the coach Wednesday in a team meeting.

“I can’t deny my relationship with Coach Pitino,” Padgett said. “I wouldn’t be standing here if not for him. Coach Pitino means a lot to me, but my focus is on the kids, I have a job to do and I’m going to give 110 percent effort to do it.”

With a core of veterans returning and a talented group of freshmen, UofL is expected to be a top-10 team in the preseason polls, and during summer workouts Pitino said it is the most athletic and most talented team he has had at Louisville. Padgett seems to agree.

“I think we have a heckuva team,” he said. “This is a very, very talented team, a very deep team, and that’s what is giving us excitement. The fans will see that in our first intrasquad game.”

The Cards will make their public debut in the first Red-White scrimmage on Oct. 13 in the KFC Yum! Center. They’ll play another intrasquad game on Oct. 27 and two exhibitions – vs. Kentucky Wesleyan on Oct. 30 and Bellarmine on Nov. 7 – before opening the season at home against George Mason on Nov. 12.

Initially, it was believed that the school’s administration was reluctant to select anyone with a connection to Pitino, especially a coach on his current staff. But Postel had few other attractive options and the players lobbied for Padgett.

Furthermore, it was unlikely that a current coach, or even an unemployed one such at former Indiana University boss Tom Crean, would take the job on an interim basis with so much uncertainty surrounding the program.

Under his contract terms, UofL must give Pitino 10 days before terminating him permanently. Counting from Tuesday, the day of the announcement, that deadline would be reached Thursday.

Padgett is in his fourth season on the Louisville staff. He came to UofL in 2014 after a three-year run as an assistant at IUPUI in Indianapolis. He was hired as basketball director of operations, then promoted to assistant coach last season.

Padgett was a three-year starter at center and a captain for the Cards from 2005-08. As a senior he was a unanimous first team All-Big East selection after averaging 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds to help UofL to a 27-9 record and a trip to the Elite Eight.

Padgett ranks second in career field goal percentage (61.3) at the school and his 66.7 percentage as a senior was the second-best ever at UofL. He also set a Big East record for conference games, shooting 68.3 percent in the 18 contests. A Carson City, Nev., native, Padgett played his freshman season at Kansas before transferring to Louisville.

After graduating he played professionally for two years in the Canary Islands, then was hired by Pitino in 2010 as assistant strength coach.

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