Padgett returns confidence, optimism to Louisville basketball

David Padgett is going to quickly win over University of Louisville basketball fans. A breath of fresh air, observed one of them following the press conference, apparently having had his fill of hyperbole from another era.

David Padgett didn’t expect to be where he is but he’s going to make the most of the opportunity.

Padgett would, in fact, provide solid reason for optimism during a week of mostly despair for University of Louisville basketball fans. Hope for everyone who treasures this university and regrets the way UofL is being perceived by outsiders these days.

That being former UofL player David Padgett who was announced as the team’s interim basketball coach late Friday afternoon.While admitting he hadn’t slept in 72 hours, Padgett brought with him a sense of calm and purpose, giving Cardinals’ fans reason for hope, stilling the troubled waters for at least a few minutes.

“This is a very special team. I’ve never seen a group of kids come together like these kids the last three days,” he said. “They’re excited about getting back to playing basketball. Probably the most unique group I’ve ever been around. I honestly don’t know if any other group of players could have gone through what they have this week.”

Padgett knows the community is going to embraces this team, too, having experienced the passion 14 years ago when he transferred to UofL after a coaching change at Kansas.

“This city has embraced me. This university embraced me when I was a student-athlete here. It’s embraced me since I came back as an employee. I met my wife here, her whole family lives here, one of my children was born here. So, this is definitely my home and I care deeply about this city and this university.”

“I told the team that if you put forth the effort I know you’re capable of and you handle yourselves in a professional, this city will rally around you in a way you’ve never seen before. I firmly believe that because I’ve seen it as a player, I’ve seen it as a coach and I’ve seen it in other sports.

“That’s exactly what this team needs. They are 18 and 19-year-old kids and it’s a tough time for them right now. They need that support and they need that love from this city, and they will get it.”

The best thing for them is that practice will begin on Sunday, enabling the players to focus on actual basketball instead of the darkness that engulfed the University following the suspensions of Coach Rick Pitino and Vice President of Athletics Tom Jurich.

“It’s been a dark week at UofL; there’s no other thing to say about that. It’s been very trying for a lot of people, for the university, this city, this program, the athletic department,” he said. “But, we’re getting through it … we’re going back to work and we look forward to moving forward and getting on with basketball season and continuing to having great success in the athletic department.”

Padgett totally committed the next six or seven months, not knowing what lies beyond that. “We’re going to try to go out and win as many games as possible and we’re looking forward to the challenge,” he said.

Here’s to David Padgett, interim basketball coach, University of Louisville.

Jurich decision not to fire Pitino costly for Louisville athletics

Interim President Greg Postel (at podium) and Board Chairman J. David Grissom (at left) at press conference on suspensions. (Charlie Springer photo).

The last place any University of Louisville supporter wanted to be on Wednesday was at a press conference on campus announcing the suspensions of Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino. The unbelievable, never-ending nightmare had finally come to this.

Tom Jurich says he’s willing to stay on at the University of Louisville.

There was Interim President Greg Postel at the podium confirming the worst possible news for UofL athletics, that Jurich was no longer in charge, that he was on paid suspension until the next board meeting on Oct. 18th. That Pitino was also suspended but without pay until the same date.

With those announcements, UofL athletics probably ended one era and entered another.  The new era getting off to a shaky start with the program’s clouded by an appeal for mercy to the NCAA and the beginning of an even more serious investigation involving both the NCAA and the Justice Department.

Jurich has faced dozens of serious challenges during his tenure at UofL, but none as big as ones confronting the University now.

Jurich, who had reportedly refused to fire Pitino over the past several weeks, met with Postel earlier in the morning. Whether he was given another opportunity to fire his friend may never be known but the meeting lasted only seven minutes.

Members of the Board of Trustees may have believed having the University involved in a Justice Department investigation was far too serious to ignore. Or they concluded that a second set of NCAA allegations required a clean sweep of both the athletic administration and the basketball program.

At any rate, still another solemn, dark day in University of Louisville history with no one, including we suspect the members of the board of trustees, having a clue about what happens next. Difficult to fault the leadership for acting so decisively, with the FBI reportedly already on campus interviewing members of the basketball staff, as Postel acknowledged during the press conference.

The saddest part of all of this is that most fans may never have a chance to thank Tom Jurich for all he accomplished at the University of Louisville. Over two decades, he was able to transform bits and pieces of hopes and dreams into some incredible realities in the form of physical facilities, incredible successes on the field, and making Louisville competitive in every single sport.

Dreams that many fans didn’t dare verbalize before his arrival in 1997 became commonplace occurrences during his tenure, raising through three different conferences, one new or renovated facility after the other, with successes in both men’s and women’s sports, and in programs led by some of the best coaches available.

Jurich held out some hope that he would return, issuing the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

“For the last 20 years, I have dedicated my life to the University of Louisville. Disappointment does not even come close to describing my feelings surrounding the allegation that any member of the UofL basketball staff could be involved in the criminal conduct announced yesterday. My intent has always been to run every athletic program at the University in an honest and compliant manner. It is heartbreaking to me that the alleged intentional and secret criminal acts can bring such harm to our school.

“I love this University, the Louisville community and all of our fans. I plan to continue to help UofL overcome the challenges it faces and work cooperatively with the University with the support of the UofL Board of Trustees following their meeting on October 19th.”

It is a well-worded statement, with all kinds of nuances, possibly for legal reasons to protect his financial interest. Some clinging to hope that he is sincere about wanting to stick around, imaging how many more things he could accomplish for the University.

Whether he could turn the board is a very long shot, of course, considering that he never seemed to seriously entertain any notions of firing Pitino. He has faced dozens of serious challenges during his tenure at UofL, but none as big as ones confronting the University now. The possibility that he might be willing to tackle them would say much about Tom Jurich’s character and his love for UofL.

FBI sting eases way for Jurich to say farewell to Pitino

Ironic that I was just wondering Monday about how things could get any worse at the University of Louisville, knowing that the school already had more than its share of problems. Just had a gut feeling that more bad news was inevitable.

Tuesday began as a quiet, peaceful day. Then all hell breaks loose mid-morning with a text from junior about a WDRB tweet, something about the UofL basketball program being involved in a Justice Department investigation. Just how bad could it possibly get that Louisville is suspected in a scheme to funnel cash to prospective players?

Just our luck that the FBI would, for some reason, get involved in the shabby business of college basketball recruiting. After years of the system being abused by some of the top programs in the nation, UofL is the one that gets nailed by the Justice Department.

The gut feeling here, if the allegations are true, is that UofL was new to the game of using shoe companies to attract players. That possibly Coach Rick Pitino, watching rival schools get away with the practice without any repercussions for years, maybe thinking it was time to take advantage of a broken system or see his program get left behind.

If true, that’s unfortunate. But it’s also understandable in a cut-throat business where some coaches have made an art out of breaking the rules, taking advantage of close ties with shoe companies to consistently recruit the best players. Despite the disadvantages, Pitino’s UofL teams were consistently ranked in the top 10 to 15 teams in the nation, with three final fours and a national championship.

Let’s hope it’s true what the FBI said in Tuesday’s news conference said about the dirty underbelly of college basketball recruiting, warning other college basketball coaches that the investigation is far from over. “If you are aware of this type of conduct, call us,” said the spokesman. “Better for you to call us than us to be calling you.”

A shock for sure, but somewhat easier to bear, with a promise from the FBi that the investigation of such practices has only just begun.

Rick Pitino’s days as coach at the University of Louisville basketball program are probably behind him. Probably the best college basketball coach in America, demanding and expecting the best effort from every player, a master at getting players to meet or exceed their potential.

There’s no way he can stick around, however, not with the revelations coming when his basketball program was already under probation. Controversy follows him like a plague, first the sex scandal with Karen Sypher, the stripper controversy orchestrated by former player Andre McGee and now this, with what seems to be hard evidence of intent to pay tens of thousands of dollars to recruits.

There were already whispers around the program that some members of the Board of Trustees were pressuring Vice President of Athletics Tom Jurich to fire Pitino over the most recent sex scandal. The word was that Jurich did not want to fire Pitino for something of which he had no knowledge,

The latest revelation may have made things easier for Jurich who has always said he wanted a clean program and would not tolerate recruiting violations.  Tom has been tested and tested again by the goings on in the basketball program He has no choice now but to let Pitino go.

The worst thing that could happen would be for Jurich to decide that he has had enough, that he would possibly even consider leaving the University of Louisville. I personally want to be around when TJ cuts the ribbon on the latest football stadium expansion, the baseball stadium expansion and whatever else Tom wants to build at UofL.

Let him go, Tom. Enough grief already.

Louisville can’t allow NCAA punitive measures to go unchallenged

Rick Pitino has never been one to go down without a fight (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

So much for the University of Louisville being repentant, trying to cooperate with the NCAA and imposing harsh self-punishment on the UofL basketball program. It obviously does not pay to not challenge the NCAA every step of the way on alleged violations.

Nothing UofL could have said or did would have placated the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The committee gave little credence to any actions taken by the school to show contrition. The members were apparently determined from the beginning to administer the harshest punishment possible to the basketball program.

Rick Pitino says he has lost a lot of respect for the NCAA during the investigation of the program (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

In essence, the committee members were saying to the University of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino that they didn’t believe him, that he was aware of the violations, that he allowed them to continue, and that he was personally culpable for Andre McGee’s actions. 

They also were throwing the middle finger to Acting UofL President Greg Poster, Vice President of Athletics Tom Jurich, and all University of Louisville basketball fans. As if these individuals condoned what went on in the early morning hours at Billy Minardi Hall, as if they were not embarrassed, sickened and disgusted by the activities. As if they were all equally to blame for the abhorrent behavior.

The committee chair was angry at Andre McGee for not cooperating so they took it out on everybody else associated with the program.  My, how the actions of one or couple of individuals can affect not only a basketball program, but the people who entrusted them and thousands of fans wanting only the right things for their university.

Perhaps even worse is to be judged by a panel of individuals sitting in judgement who appear to have ignored all the steps taken by the university to get to the facts. So appalled by the societal issues that they never get past their initial reactions, making them collectively impotent, incapable of rendering a fair or appropriate decision.

“The penalty far exceeded our expectation,” said Chuck Smrt, a UofL consultant and former NCAA investigator. “The severity of the penalties exceeds the severity of this case.”

The proposed punishment was drawn up by a subcommittee of seven members of the Committee on Infractions. Few, if any, people outside that small group know how the process worked. The guess here is that Carol Cartwright, former President of Bowling Green University and Kent State, drafted the recommendations and they were rubber-stamped by the other members. No one outside the small group apparently questioned whether the punishment fit the crime.

Acting President Greg Postel promised a vigorous appeal of the NCAA action (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Acting UofL President Greg Postel said the NCAA action will be vigorously appealed. “We believe the penalties imposed today are unfair to the UofL community and our current and former student-athletes, many of whom have already paid a heavy price for actions that did not involve them,” he said. “This ruling is also unfair to Coach Pitino, who we believe could not have known about the illicit activities.

Rick Pitino was understandably shocked by the severity of the proposed penalties. “For 35 years I’ve had faith in the NCAA, but in the recent past, they have made some decisions that are unjust,” he said. “I’ve lost a lot of trust and I’m going to put all my faith and beliefs in the appeals committee. What’s in this report (from the Committee on Infractions) is way over the top and inconceivable. We believe we will win the appeal.”

Tom Jurich has taken University of Louisville athletics to new heights during his 17 year tenure (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Tom Jurich, who has taken the UofL athletic program to new levels during his tenure, was obviously still numb an hour after the penalties were announced. Anyone who has accompanied him on this journey had to empathize with him, knowing how open and honest he is, how effective he has been, with UofL enjoying unprecedented success and growth in all 22 sports across the department. 

Sadly, only to have Louisville basketball embarrassed by an irresponsible former player and have an out-of-touch NCAA committee attempt to erase the program’s crowning moments.

*    *   *

The seven members of the Committee on Infractions subcommittee, which recommended the penalties on the UofL basketball program, were:

–Chairperson Dr. Carol Cartwright, former President of Bowling Green State University and Kent State University.
–William Bock III, attorney with Kroger, Gardis & Regas. an Indianapolis, Indiana law firm, and a graduate of Michigan.
–Greg Christopher, athletic director, Xavier University.
–Thomas Hill, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, Iowa State University.
–Stephen Madva, attorney and managing partner, Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, in Philadelphia.
–Joe Novak, former head football coach, Northern Illinois University.
–Larry Parkinson, Director of Enforcement, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Fortunately for everyone affected, the appeals process goes through another committee.

Stockman eyes more playing time at Minnesota



 Still waiting for Matz Stockman to make that breakthrough to the next level? Not going to happen, at least not at the University of Louisville.

Hopes that the 7-foot, 240-pound Stockman could someday be a dominant force in the middle for the UofL basketball team were dashed Tuesday. Stockman is transferring to the University of Minnesota.

Rick Pitino was obviously involved in the decision, possibly frustrated with Stockman’s lack of progress during three seasons at UofL. He was rarely used this year, playing only 74 minutes in 18 games and averaging 1.7 points and 1.2 rebounds per game.

But the elder Pitino is also aware that if someone with Stockman’s physique and personality were to somehow become motivated, he could make a difference for some team. Best to keep him in the family, encouraging Stockman to play for his son Richard at Minnesota. 

Stockman will have to sit out a season, becoming eligible for 2018-19 campaign. “Matz has been a great team member with our basketball team and we appreciate his efforts,” said Pitino.  “Transferring to Minnesota is a great move for him, as he’ll have an opportunity to make an immediate impact when he becomes eligible to play.” 

Stockman is looking forward to getting much more playing time. “I’ve been looking for an opportunity to play quality minutes for a long time now and I think this will be a great situation for me,” he said.

Hopefully a motivated Stockman doesn’t come back to haunt his old UofL coach in a couple of years.