CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There were teams who came into ACC Media Day with more on-court turnover than Louisville.
Pitt didn’t return a single starter from its 2016-17 squad. Duke (Grayson Allen), Syracuse (Tyus Battle) and Florida State (Terance Mann) return just a single member of their respective top five players from a year ago.
But no team has to overcome more off-court tumult than the Cardinals.
DeCOURCY: Rick Pitino would be easier to believe if he were more believable
After all, Rick Pitino is gone. So is one of the Hall-of-Famer’s former assistants, Jordan Fair. Associate head coach Kenny Johnson remains suspended in the aftermath of a federal investigation into corruption on the college basketball recruiting scene that resulted in the arrest of four other coaches and a high-ranking Adidas official late last month.
When practices began, David Padgett wasn’t just Louisville’s interim coach. He was the only one who was active. But despite losing the 12th-winningest coach in Division I history and the man who recruited him in athletic director Tom Jurich, senior point guards Quentin Snider and center Anas Mahmoud weren’t rattled when they stood behind the lectern at the swanky Ritz-Carlton in uptown Charlotte to address media.
Instead, they seemed resolved — if not relaxed — in the immediate aftermath of Pitino’s departure.
“It’s been a lot different,” Snider said. “But the main thing is, in practice, it’s still very intense. It’s still competitive, but the thing about practice is it’s been more relaxed, more laid-back.”
Gone are the 2 1/2-hour training sessions that were routine under Pitino. Under “DP” — the nickname Louisville players still use to refer to Padgett — players get to have their legs preserved a little more. Padgett’s a player’s coach. And how could he not be? Once a McDonald’s and Parade All-American, the 32-year-old Padgett is less than a decade removed from his own playing days.
Gone is Pitino’s larger-than-life persona, which, Mahmoud said, not only loomed over the players, but also coaches and the university as a whole.
FAGAN: Five potential long-term replacements for Pitino
David Padgett is in position to understand his players as a former Cardinals player himself. (Getty Images)
Padgett has been where his players are, starting three years under the guidance and guile of Pitino from 2005-08. That’s why, in the midst of trying times, he has made the decision to dial it down a bit, in hopes his guys will turn up when their season officially tips off at home against George Mason on Nov. 12.
MORE: Pitino can play victim, but sad ending at Louisville largely his fault
“Playing for him (Pitino) was really nice in games, but practice was not fun,” Mahmoud said. “I would rather just play games the whole year. But coach Padgett, he played for Coach P. He knows what we felt like when Coach P was the coach. So, he tries all the time to make practice more fun. He’s sarcastic in nature, and he did not change one bit (since becoming head coach).”
Padgett’s method is both sympathetic and strategic. Regardless of what lies ahead, be it NCAA sanctions or a long-term stint as Louisville’s coach, no one on the floor or the sidelines can get this season back. His main focus is for his team to remain focused on what it can control. He’s not a pushover. He just doesn’t push when there’s no need.
“If they give me a reason to get on them, I will, but if they don’t, then, I won’t,” Padgett said. “Effort isn’t something that I’ve had to coach very much in practice this year which has been really good. … I just walk into practice and say, ‘We need to get better.’
“If I don’t think they’re bringing the energy or the focus we need, I’ll let them know, but if they just do what they’re supposed to do then there’s no reason for me to get on them.”
Don’t expect any wholesale changes to Louisville’s style of play this season. Pitino is gone, but his fingerprints will be all over this team. You don’t just abandon the strategy of a coach who had a career .746 win percentage with the Cardinals — including a 23-8 record last season — and a national title.
“I’d be crazy to come in and change things,” Padgett said. “The returning players are familiar with it. The incoming guys came here to play that style and it’s been pretty successful for the University of Louisville over the last 16 years.”