Louisville season opens amid scandal fallout, minus Pitino
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — For the second time in three seasons, Louisville needs to maintain its on-court focus amid fallout from another scandal off of it.
This time the Cardinals will have to get it done without longtime coach Rick Pitino.
Louisville is just over a month removed from acknowledging that it is being investigated in a national federal bribery probe of college basketball. The investigation led to Pitino’s firing on Oct. 16 after 16 seasons. David Padgett has been promoted from second-year assistant to interim coach.
Athletic director Tom Jurich was also fired in the wake of the probe that stunned players.
“It just came out of nowhere,” senior guard Quentin Snider said, “and when that happened you just didn’t know what to do until someone explained to you what’s going on.
“The only way to get over tough times is to be around your teammates and play basketball.”
Stunning as the sudden changes have been to the program, Cardinals veterans believe their previous experience moving past a 2015 sex scandal has prepared them to handle this latest crisis — even without the Hall of Fame coach on the sidelines.
“We’re the only ones who can bring everybody together,” said 7-foot senior Anas Mahmoud, referring to a group including Snider and junior forwards Deng Adel and Ray Spalding.
“We’ve been around here for the last couple of years and we know how the fans support us, we know the system and even the university. That was the key point when it came to getting everybody together. We also had experience from two years ago, and that helped us a lot in blocking everything out and knowing how to deal with things.”
Leading scorer Donovan Mitchell — an NBA draft lottery selection — and starting forward Jaylen Johnson are among eight Cardinals gone from a 25-9 squad that reached the NCAA Tournament second round. But Louisville returns five regulars who averaged at least 5.5 points per game — led by Snider (12.4 points per game), Adel (12.1 points, 4.5 rebounds), and Mahmoud (2.1 blocks). Guards V.J. King and Ryan McMahon are also back.
Malik Williams (6-11) and Lance Thomas (6-8) highlight a freshman class with length. Louisville also signed 6-7 guard Brian Bowen, a high school All-American who is referred to in the federal complaint but not named. Bowen remains enrolled but is being held out of practice and games until the allegations are resolved.
Louisville’s biggest question is how quickly Padgett adapts to becoming a first-time head coach on short notice. The 6-11 former player under Pitino suggests he will stress defense like his mentor but acknowledges things have moved too fast to ponder what his philosophy will be.
That makes Padgett just as intent as the Cardinals to stay tuned into basketball and away from the noise.
“I think we have a chance to have a very, very good year based on our talent level,” he said. “We have a good mix of returning, experienced players who’ve played a lot of significant minutes for us and we have a nice group of young, talented freshmen.
“We’re excited about this season and that’s what we want it to be, focused on basketball. That’s what these kids deserve.”
Here are other things to watch as Louisville moves forward without coach Rick Pitino:
Q’S TEAM: Snider has shared backcourt responsibilities with Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Mitchell — the last two now in the NBA — but is now in charge. The Louisville native will run the point and is eager to show defensive improvement along with his added responsibilities. “One thing he (Padgett) told me to do while I’m on the floor is be that other coach,” Snider said.
SUPPORT STAFF: Padgett’s first hire was veteran former head coach Trent Johnson, who most recently guided TCU until 2016. Former Duke standout and Ohio State assistant Greg Paulus was added Oct. 19 with first-year staffer R.J. Evans promoted the next day.
NEWCOMERS: Louisville native Dwayne Sutton averaged 12 points and 7.7 rebounds as a UNC Asheville freshman before transferring to his hometown school. The 6-5 sophomore redshirted last season as a walk-on but has a scholarship and is eligible. Freshmen such as Williams, Thomas, 6-7 Jordan Nwora and 6-2 Darius Perry are expected to contribute immediately for depth.
MARQUEE GAMES: The Cardinals visit Purdue on Nov. 28 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and host Big Ten member Indiana on Dec. 9. They also visit cross-state rival Kentucky on Dec. 29 before another challenging ACC slate highlighted by consecutive games Feb. 17 and 21 against defending champion North Carolina and at Duke, respectively.