Come 1 p.m. Friday, on the home bench at Rupp Arena will be a first-ballot Naismith Hall of Fame selection with a national title, three championship games and six Final Fours to his credit.
John Calipari needs no introduction.
There on the visitor’s bench will be a 32-year-old former college center who was a former director of basketball operations who had never been a head coach anywhere until handed the interim tag two days before the start of preseason practice.
Say hello to David Padgett.
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If Rick Pitino is the elephant not in the room for this year’s annual Kentucky-Louisville clash, Padgett is the most unknown of commodities. He’s the emergency measure U of L took after FBI investigation allegations rocked a program weary of scandal and sacked the head coach with two national championships.
Padgett was something of a controversial choice. Acting U of L president Greg Postel felt it better to stick with someone already on staff rather than subject current players to an unfamiliar outsider so close to the start of the season.
So now, 10 wins and two losses in, how has Padgett done?
Bob Valvano, the former Bellarmine coach who provides color on the Louisville radio broadcasts and is host to an afternoon sports talk show in the city, prefaces his answer by pointing out the ridiculousness of the situation Padgett inherited.
“All that said,” said Valvano on Wednesday. “I think David has done about as good a job as you could possibly do.”
First things first, Valvano likes Padgett. He thinks he’ll be a “really good head coach” whether at U of L or somewhere else. He likes that Padgett has learned from his years playing for and coaching under Pitino, but he’s not a carbon copy. He knows how he wants his team to play.
Example: Pitino liked to full-court press, but not necessarily trap out of the press. Padgett wants to trap. Example: Where Pitino’s coaching style leaned toward negative reinforcement, Padgett’s approach is more modern.
“Brad Stevens, that’s the way of the future,” said Valvano of the former Butler and current Celtics coach. “David fits that mold.”
A dozen games into the season, Pitino may have changed his starting lineup four or five times. Padgett hasn’t changed it once. When Louisville turned the ball over late in its losses to Purdue and Seton Hall, Pitino might have told his team to get the ball to point guard Quentin Snider or else. Padgett asked his team who was the best decision-maker. Snider was the answer. Let’s try getting the ball to him, advised the new head coach.
“He’s a good communicator,” said Valvano. “And with the modern player, I think you have to be a good communicator.”
There’s also a public part to the job, of course. Padgett has opened most every press conference with a nod or a compliment to one of the school’s other sports. When asked a question, he’s not afraid to say he doesn’t know the answer.
“I think David came to terms early on that these were bizarre circumstances,” said Valvano. “I think he said, ‘I’m going to keep things as simple as I can so as not to add to the chaos.’”
He’s learning. In an early-season game, Louisville was out of timeouts when a player fouled out. Instead of using the extra time to huddle his team, Padgett immediately sent the replacement to the scorer’s table. The next time the situation happened, Valvano noticed Padgett took advantage of all the time he had to make the substitution.
“Those are things he’d never done before,” said Valvano.
Is it possible that at season’s end Padgett could lose the interim tag and do the job permanently? It would be shocking if Louisville did not conduct a national coaching search. On the other hand, given the possible FBI and NCAA repercussions, the current attractiveness of the position is uncertain.
“Whatever they decide to do,” said Valvano, “I think David has put himself to be in the discussion.”
Friday, in the most emotional game of the season for both sides, David Padgett has been shoved into the spotlight. He’ll be the first-timer down the sideline from the first-ballot Hall of Famer. Introductions optional.
Louisville men’s basketball 2017-18
Memphis (at New York)
at Florida State
at Notre Dame
at Virginia Tech
at N.C. State