When Scott Padgett's Kentucky Wildcats playing career ended in 1999, his career goal was in place: He wanted to coach college basketball. Alas, his aspirations hit a nine-year detour.
While he was playing in the NBA.
"I would have been a graduate assistant somewhere when I was 23," Padgett said last week. "Playing in the NBA sort of derailed my plans."
"It was a good derailment," Padgett said, laughing.
This winter, Padgett, 38, will fulfill a long-standing goal when he begins his first season as head men's basketball coach at Samford University in Birmingham. If a good coach is made by the sum of one's experiences with basketball coaching luminaries, Padgett should become a coaching star.
Rick Pitino recruited and developed him at Kentucky. Tubby Smith coached the 6-foot-9 forward to a national title.
Padgett began his NBA career playing for Jerry Sloan with the Utah Jazz. Next came a stint under Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau, and Steve Clifford (now Charlotte Hornets head man) with the Houston Rockets.
After his NBA career ended, John Calipari helped Padgett get his foot in the door of college coaching by hiring him as assistant strength coach at Kentucky. Next for Padgett came stops at Manhattan and Samford as a basketball assistant coach.
This past summer, Samford Athletics Director Martin Newton, the former UK Director of Basketball Operations and the son of C.M. Newton, tabbed Padgett to be the school's head man.
Now, Padgett is incorporating best practices from the who's who of coaches who have touched his life.
At Samford, he plans to incorporate the full-court, up-tempo style of play that Pitino utilized in the 1990s at UK.
With an eye toward attracting recruits, Padgett was looking for a marketing angle to sell an up-tempo approach. Thinking back on his year with Calipari at Kentucky, he settled on having his picture made at Talladega Superspeedway with a race car.
"I learned watching Cal how important marketing is for a coach," Padgett said. "I wanted something to emphasize the message, 'Hey, we plan to play fast.'"
A private, Christian school of some 5,000 students, Samford competes in the Southern Conference. Davidson had been the marquee men's hoops program in the league, but the North Carolina school has moved to the Atlantic 10.
A year ago, with Padgett assisting Bennie Seltzer, Samford went 13-20. The best player from that team, power forward Tim Williams (17.6 points, 7.3 rebounds), transferred to New Mexico.
Still, Padgett is optimistic. "I think there are some pieces to work with here," he said. "Maybe they just need to hear a new voice, get a different direction. Hopefully, I can be that voice."
Padgett is making the state of Kentucky a central focus of his recruiting efforts. It's been 16 years since he started at power forward on UK's 1998 NCAA championship team.
High school kids won't remember the cold-blooded three-pointer Padgett hit to put UK ahead of Duke to stay in the '98 South Region finals. Their parents will, however.
Padgett signed two Kentuckians, both from Lexington, in his initial Samford recruiting class. Freshman point guard Christen Cunningham played at Henry Clay and at Cordia; junior college transfer Darius Jones-Gibson, a two guard, played high school at Tates Creek. "If we played tomorrow, and we don't, they would be my starting point guard and shooting guard," Padgett said Thursday.
Already for 2015-16, Padgett has a commitment from Lexington Christian standout Matt Rose, a well-regarded 6-7 forward.
"There may not be a lot of talent in Kentucky for the level of UK or U of L," Padgett said. "But at the level I'm at, which is mid-major basketball, I think there are a lot of players who can play and succeed. We're going to hit Kentucky hard."
Samford will open with games against Purdue and Pittsburgh. When the ball is tipped against the Boilermakers, Scott Padgett will have fulfilled a dream that took root long before he thought playing in the NBA could happen for him.
"Even before I played for Kentucky, watching Coach Pitino, I always had the dream of being a coach, being the guy in the suit calling plays, directing things," he said. "I'm excited to get started."