Jaylen Johnson emerges, Louisville rips Evansville 78-49

Jaylen Johnson has gotten a lot of playing time since he was a freshman, much to the puzzlement of some University of Louisville basketball fans. Sometimes wondering how long it would take for Johnson to become an offensive presence.

Coach Rick Pitino sensing something early about the 6-foot-9 junior forward from Ypsilanti, Mich., including his strength and exceptional energy. Giving Johnson all the time necessary to channel that energy, to eliminate the awkward moves, working within the system to become the player Pitino believes Johnson can be.

Johnson is getting closer to being that player if his performance in UofL’s 78-47 win over Evansville on Friday night is any indication. His best game since becoming a Cardinal, he would score a team-high and career-high 19 points.

Stepping up to provide some much-needed leadership on UofL’s front line, Johnson would connect on nine of 11 field goal attempts, including his only 3-point shot, while commandeering 14 rebounds and blocking three Evansville shots.

Johnson loves the fast pace, crediting Pitino’s emphasis on conditioning. “We are  going to play fast,” he said. “Coach tells us if we’re tired, the other team is exhausted.”

He also credited his teammates noting, “They were getting the ball to me at the right time,” he said. “I just thankful to be here, playing for a great coach.  We never know who’s going to have a great night.”

Like Donovan Mitchell, for example, who was almost equally effective and disruptive, scoring 15 points with five rebounds and four steals. And how about Anas Mahmoud, hitting five of five field goal attempts for 10 points while pulling down five rebounds.

A night of highlights for Johnson in this game, the kind of performance that Pitino has been expecting from Johnson since the beginning. Many more to come hopefully.

Why Tom Jurich may have allowed the speculation

Good for the University of Louisville that Tom Jurich has clarified that he’s not interested in an opening for a new athletic director at the University of Southern California. That’s the best news fans have had since the escort scandal surfaced at UofL.

Apparently someone close to Jurich, or at least in his vicinity, was leaking information to numerous media outlets across town, telling them the rumor had legs, that Tom was willing to listen to an offer this time around. Some usually reliable reporters going with it, citing his Southern California roots, including John Ramsey and Mike Rutherford for a couple of hours on their 93.9 The Ville talk show.

Interesting, though, that he allowed the speculation to continue for several hours before putting an end to it.

One possibility is that Jurich, in an effort to finger the source of leaks at UofL, made a casual remark to a suspected staff member or contractor to test their trustworthiness. Another is that Tom may have wanted to send a message to some members of the board of trustees, providing them with a reminder of how much he values his relationship with President Jim Ramsey. Still another is that he was indirectly communicating with Rick Pitino, who has been playing both sides of the will he stay or will he go game.

Someone at the university has been supplying information on a regular basis to Matt Jones, the host of Kentucky Sports Radio. None of the information reflecting favorably on UofL. Could be a staff member or someone who does contract work for the university, or it could be both. It would be in Tom’s best interest to identify and cut all ties with the individual(s). Whoever is attempting to damage UofL’s name should not be receiving any financial benefits from the university.

The more likely reason is Tom’s respect for his boss. Jurich has a very close relationship with Jim Ramsey, often describing him as the best boss he has ever had, describing his own position as the best AD job in the nation. Jurich had told some people, including this observer, that he would, in fact, consider leaving UofL if there were certain changes in the President’s office. That’s something people calling for Jim Ramsey’s job need to keep in mind.

Finally, maybe Tom was sending a message to Rick Pitino for some reason, perhaps a subtle reminder that he has been supportive of the coach through some difficult times and that loyalty works both ways.

Who knows? But Wednesday’s period of uncertainly startled a lot of people , including those fans calling for Ramsey and Pitino’s jobs. That crowd was dealt a heavy dose of reality, suddenly confronted with the stark possibility of losing all three UofL leaders. Never doubt that Jurich is loyal to his boss and to the people he hires and oversees himself.

As Howie Lindsay has noted, since Jurich arrived, Louisville has been to three Final Fours, two BCS games, three College World Series, a College Cup, two women’s Final Fours and produced a half-dozen NCAA Champions. He, along with Ramsey, also made it possible for UofL to become a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference and transformed the eastern boundary of the University of Louisville campus.

The fact that Tom Jurich remains committed to the University of Louisville is the most positive development that has occurred since the rash of bad news began. He has the unique leadership skills, along with the trust and respect of his colleagues at other universities, required to get UofL through this mess. He recognizes the enormous challenge confronting UofL, and he is best qualified to navigate the rugged terrain.

Coach for life, that’s Rick Pitino


Rick Pitino has received another four-year extension on his contract, extending his commitment to the University of Louisville through the 2025-26 basketball season.

Not that anyone suspected Pitino was going anywhere anytime soon. The man loves basketball, has the greatest boss in the industry, and is strongly committed to everything Louisville.

Along with that commitment comes the same Pitino that UofL fans have come to embrace over the past 14 years. One who uses the media to motivate his players as often as during practice sessions. One given to lecturing the media and fans on the game. One who always seems to be working on his next book. One prone to misdiagnosis of injuries and recovery times.

Pitino is one of the best motivational speakers around, inspiring his players, as well as his coaching staff and the fans. While his bench fell short this year, he usually has the ability to get the absolute most out of his players, getting to excel year after year. One suspects he will alter his approach on developing his reserves this season.

Pitino is also unpredictable, loves being that way, sometimes doing the exact opposite of what he says he’s going to do. Doesn’t always work out, but it does more often than not.

He also has an unrivaled ability to prepare his teams for post-season play, defying the odds this past by coming within one missed free throw of returning to the Final Four

The Cardinals are coming off their fifth NCAA Tournament regional final appearance in eight years, a stretch that also included the 2012 Final Four as well as the 2013 title. He is the only coach besides Roy Williams of North Carolina to take two different schools to the Final Four three different times.

He has a 722-254 career record in 30 college seasons at five different schools, was the first coach to win national titles at two different schools, having won at Kentucky in 1996 and with Louisville in 2013. The Cardinals are coming off their fifth NCAA Tournament regional final appearance in eight years.

Pitino just seems to keep getting better and more dedicated to the game. As he noted in the Tuesday press conference, “I never thought at 62 I would be more passionate than 22 or 32, and I am. I just really, really love it.”

His boss, Tom Jurich, wants Pitino to be his coach for as long as possible. “I think he’s just reaching his peak. I really mean that.”

Pitino and the University of Louisville have a lifetime commitment.

Dig deep for Year of the Cardinal

Year-of-the-CardinalTake a good look at the graphic of the new Marker’s Mark Year of the Cardinal bottle because it may be the only one you get.

Only five hundred of the bottles will be available starting this Thursday by calling the Cardinal Athletic Fund at 852-8460, starting at 9 a.m. with your credit card in hand.

The cost — actually it’s a major investment — is $2,000, with all the proceeds going to benefit the UofL Academic Center for Excellence. UofL and Maker’s Mark are teaming up for raise $1 million. The estimated cost of the project is $14 million.

The bottles celebrate the Year of the Cardinal with an unprecedented four-part feat in college athletics: winning the Sugar Bowl, participating in the College World Series, advancing to the national championship game in women’s basketball, and winning the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship.

Documentary in the works on Angel McCoughtry

Coming soon a TV movie/documentary featuring Angel McCoughtry.

That’s the word from Stephen Philms, a Atlanta-based creative director, who was in McCoughtry’s entourage during her Louisville homecoming this week. Philms said the production will trace her life from a youngster in Baltimore, through her career with the University of Louisville women’s basketball team and on to the Atlanta Dream.

Then, of course, there’s her basketball in Turkey during the off season and the upcoming Olympics. Expect the production to also include some of McCoughtry’s music. She writes and sings as well, you know.

“We’re in the early stages and there’s lot of work ahead,” he said. “She’s had a fascinating life, overcoming many challenges with exceptional commitment and talents.”

Also in McCoughtry’s entourage was Ilene Hauser, a marketing representative from NIKE, who was assisting with media relations during Angel’s induction into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.

“Angel is one of three players on the Atlanta Dream with a NIKE contract,” said Hauser. “We take an active interest in her career.”

And, yes, they are acquainted with World Wide Wes.