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Top sports stories of 2017: #1 is University of Louisville firing of Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Rick Pitino is the only coach in history to lead rival schools Kentucky and Louisville to a national championship and he is no longer coaching basketball in the state after a pay-for-play scheme led to his dismissal before fall workouts were set to begin in October.
The former Kentucky coach was fired by the Louisville following a string of incidents during the past decade, which included an NCAA investigation involving prostitutes, an ongoing probe yet to be completed, pending an appeal by the university.
His firing shocked the college basketball world and dominated headlines in 2017, a year that resembled a never-ending roller-coaster ride.

File photo. Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino watches game with assistant coach David Padgett, now interim coach.

David Padgett, a former Louisville player and assistant coach with the Cardinals, replaced the Hall of Fame coach on an interim basis. He took a 10-2 record into Rupp Arena on the last weekend of the year and the Wildcats pummeled the Cardinals 90-61 in the most lopsided margin in the series since 1999.

Along with Pitino, Louisville Athletics Director Tom Jurrich was suspended with pay and eventually fired by the university for his lack of oversight within the athletics department at Louisville. Vincent Tyra, a Kentucky graduate, was named acting athletics director following the firing of Jurich.

Before everything came unraveled at Louisville, the Cardinals’ baseball team reached the College World Series for the fourth time in school history and finished 53-12 before losing to Texas Christian University in the second round. The Cardinals defeated Texas A&M in the opening round after knocking out rival Kentucky in the Super Regional finals.

The Kentucky men’s basketball team came within one game of reaching the Final Four, losing to eventual champion North Carolina in the Elite Eight at FedEx Forum in Memphis. The Wildcats finished with a 32-6 record and a No. 5 ranking in the final Associated Press Top 25 Poll.

Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk were later first-round selections in the NBA Draft. During his tenure as coach of the Wildcats, John Calipari has produced 31 draft picks, including three top picks.

For the second consecutive season, the Kentucky football team finished 7-5 during the regular season and reached the postseason. The Wildcats lost a 24-23 heartbreaker to Northwestern in the Music City Bowl. Wildcats running back Benny Snell, ejected in the first half of the Music City Bowl on a controversial call, led the Southeastern Conference in carries (256) rushing yards (1,318) and rushing touchdowns with 18. He has rushed for a school record 2,424 yards in just two seasons and owns the school record for rushing touchdowns with 32.

The Louisville football team finished with an 8-5 mark behind the arm of quarterback Lamar Jackson, who finished as a Heisman Trophy finalist for the second straight season. Jackson won the award was a sophomore in 2016. Jackson threw for 3,489 yards and 25 touchdowns this past season and rushed for 1,443 yards and 17 more scores to pace the Cardinals’ offensive attack. He was intercepted four times in a 31-27 loss to Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Dec. 30.

The Kentucky volleyball team enjoyed a memorable season and reached the Elite Eight for the first time in school history, losing to Nebraska. Kentucky baseball team went 43-23 under first-year coach Nick Mingione and lost to Louisville in the Super Regionals.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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