BOZICH | Louisville's 1986 NCAA champs eager for celebration -- - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Louisville's 1986 NCAA champs eager for celebration -- and any challenge

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Robbie Valentine, Denny Crum and Milt Wagner are eager for the reunion of U of L's 1986 NCAA champs. Robbie Valentine, Denny Crum and Milt Wagner are eager for the reunion of U of L's 1986 NCAA champs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I tossed the question to former University of Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum, the guy who directed the U of L teams that won national championships in 1980 and 1986.

When you watch games today, do you wonder how your team would do against today’s teams?

“Sure, I do,” Crum said.

Before Crum could deliver his complete answer, Milt Wagner, one of his former players, stepped in and answered first.

“They wouldn’t have a chance,” Wagner said, smiling.

No wonder those guys cut down some nets at Reunion Arena in Dallas.

The weekend of Feb. 19-21 is going to be some celebration around the University of Louisville. Not only has the school organized a 30-year anniversary of the 1986 NCAA title team, U of L has arranged the party with the backdrop of a Feb. 20 game against Duke, the program the Cardinals defeated in the final game.

Robbie Valentine, a reserve on that squad, is one organizer of the celebration. Valentine said that he expected at least 11 players, four coaches and six members of the support staff to attend.

The game tips at noon, but it will be followed by a public reception at Bearno’s Pizza on Second and Main streets after the game as well as a dinner at Captain’s Quarters.

That was a team that beat Drexel; No. 14 Bradley and its national player of the year Hersey Hawkins; No. 8 North Carolina and its four future pros; Auburn and Chuck Person; Louisiana State and John Williams and top-ranked Duke in Mike Krzyzewski’s first Final Four as a coach.

Yes, that Louisville team lost seven of 39 games. But the Cardinals won 21 of their final 22, seven against ranked opponents.

Of course, players on that team believe they could play with any team from the last 10, 20 or 30 years of college basketball.

That U of L team made better than 53 percent of its field-goal attempts, the most accurate shooting of any Louisville team since the school started recording that statistic in 1950. No Louisville team has made 50 percent of its shots since 1990.

Crum and Wagner believe there is a reason for that. The Cardinals ran set plays, not a series of handoffs along the perimeter, trying to create isolated mismatches and a pick-and-roll.

Crum even grabbed my notebook and showed me the secret behind “Swing ‘Em,” one of his signature plays that often resulted in a lay-up.

“I do know the game is a lot different than it was in those days,” Crum said. “We ran plays. Different sets and plays.

“You don’t hardly see that. You see passing, ball movement and then it’s pick and roll. Or it’s duck your shoulder and go and take it to the basket and either dunk it or dish it off or shoot your little floaters.

“If it didn’t hit the backboard from out there, we weren’t shooting it. We practiced just the shots that we were going to get in the games. We practiced them every day.

“We ran dummy offense every day for 20 minutes so that they would know the plays that we were going to run and the options just on my call. Or I could just tell Milt and he would tell them.”

“Back then in my opinion I think the game was played a lot more that the guys knew how to play,” Wagner said.

“Now a lot of it is built on athletic ability and things like that. They don’t really know how to play the game of basketball.

“Plus you have guys who were in school for four years. Now you have these young kids, one-and-dones and all that. I think we had a lot more knowledge back then.”

Critical point. That team started three seniors – Wagner, forward Billy Thompson and guard Jeff Hall. Herb Crook, a sophomore forward, was on his way to becoming one of the Top 10 scorers in school history. Center Pervis Ellison was the nation’s best freshman – as well as the first pick in the 1989 NBA Draft. More veterans were on the bench.

“I personally think the caliber of Milt, Billy, Herb and those guys, if they came in right now, you almost have to say they’re one and done guys to in the Eighties,” said Valentine.

“These guys were unbelievable players, but Coach Crum didn’t have to spend as much time on the basic skills because guys have a lot of knowledge in that areas.”

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