BOZICH | Monday Muse: Former Cards debate Most Painful U of L defeat
Former Cards debate the most painful loss in U of L sports history; More love from the Ali Memorial; Denny Crum on the mend; The Next Milt Wagner. Raising money for Simmons College hoops.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There was a miniature University of Louisville basketball reunion, with a splash of Kentucky Wildcats' blue, at Persimmon Ridge Golf Club Monday.
Former Cardinal guard Jerry Eaves hosted his first golf tournament for the basketball program that he directs at Simmons College. Former Cards Butch Beard, Darrell Griffith, Milt Wagner, Wiley Brown, Tony Branch, LaBradford Smith, Billy Harmon, Mike Grosso and Scooter McCray joined Eaves. Denny Crum, U of L's Hall of Fame coach, and two of his former assistants, Wade Houston and Bill Olsen, also supported the event.
Former Card Kenny Payne, one of John Calipari's assistants at Kentucky, helped the cause, as did Derek Anderson, a star on UK's 1996 NCAA championship team.
After the golf event, participants bid on a series of items, including two tickets to the 2017 NCAA Final Four. UK's Calipari and U of L's Crum each donated a signed basketball and the opportunity to share lunch with them.
The sports talk percolated from tee to green -- on the Cards' NCAA Super Regional baseball loss Sunday; the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service last Friday, the NBA Finals and other topics.
Time to strike up the Muse.
1. Worst U of L Loss Since …
Although the tournament featured top basketball personalities, the Cardinals' jarring, come-from-ahead, 4-3 walk-off baseball defeat to UC Santa Barbara was a major topic around the first tee.
The discussion quickly pivoted to history:
Where will the loss rank among the most painful defeats in U of L athletic history?
Eaves nominated the Cards' 74-73 loss to Arkansas on a halfcourt shot by Razorbacks' guard U.S. Reed on buzzer beater during the 1981 NCAA Tournament as Louisville tried to defend its 1980 NCAA title.
Beard, a former all-American, has yet to eliminate the sting of an 83-81 upset defeat against Southern Methodist during the 1967 NCAA Tournament.
There will always be talk of the Cards' disturbing basketball loss to UCLA during the 1975 national semifinals in San Diego, a loss that eliminated Louisville before a championship game match against Kentucky. That was the team many believed would bring U of L its first NCAA title.
There was also a mention of the unbeaten football Cards' 28-25 upset defeat against Rutgers during the 2006 season.
The unofficial winner was the 75-74 loss to UCLA. But you can post your opinion at the top of this column.
2. Second-Guessing Dan McDonnell
Bruce Bochy has won three World Series with the San Francisco Giants, but Bochy gets second-guessed. Tony LaRussa got second-guessed on his way to the Hall of Fame. Ditto for Joe Torre. Or Casey Stengel. It's as much a part of baseball as the hit-and-run.
Several former U of L basketball players second-guessed coach Dan McDonnell's decision not to replace closer Zack Burdi with Kyle Funkhouser after Burdi gave up a hit and two walks to load the bases in the ninth.
Burdi was the best closer in college baseball all season. He was the first relief pitcher selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft last Thursday. Stick with the plan. The plan had always worked. Burdi looked like a guy who was trying too hard. But he had earned the right to find the strike zone.
The plan did not work. But it was still the correct plan.
But throwing a change-up that sped up the bat of the UC-Santa Barbara hitter who smacked the game-winning home run?
We can talk about that.
3. One More Salute to the Ali Memorial Service
Many of the participants at the Simmons' golf outing attended the Ali Memorial Service on Friday. Any mention of the gathering produced another Ali high.
Jerry Ellis, one of the pallbearers, said he and Ali's family members were captivated by the size and emotion of the crowd. "Everybody was so positive and got along so well," Ellis said. "Muhammad would have loved it."
"I saw more celebrities than I saw at 10 Kentucky Derbies," said Griffith, the homegrown star of Louisville's 1980 NCAA champs. "Whoopi Goldberg sat right next to me."
"I took my (12-year-old) daughter to the service because I wanted her to learn about him," said Wagner, a guard on Louisville's 1986 NCAA championship team.
"I don't think she really understood what Ali meant to everybody. She does now."
4. Muhammad Ali -- Cardinals' Hoops Fan
Crum said that Ali's friendship with the Cardinals' program stretches back to Crum's early days with the basketball program. Crum said Ali consistently supported the program.
"Back in the days when it was legal, we'd use him to make phone calls to recruits to convince them to come to Louisville," Crum said.
"Ask Tony Branch about that. I remember he called Tony and told him that if he didn't sign with Louisville he was going to drive up there (to Michigan City, Ind., Branch's hometown) and box his ears in."
Branch signed with the Cards in 1976 and is still celebrated for the game-winning 15-footer he made against Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament during Louisville's run to the 1980 national title.
So I asked Branch. He said the story was true.
"I remember every word of what he said to me," Branch said. "Actually I was the third guy on my visit that weekend. The other two were Darrell and Bobby Turner (Griff’s teammate at Male High).
"I got the phone last. I remember he wouldn't let me off the phone until I promised him that I'd sign with Louisville."
"I told him that I would," Branch said. "I was a big Ali fan. And I wanted to come to Louisville."
5. Crum on The Mend
The Louisville players that Crum once coached are now coaching him. Crum, 79, said that he slipped and broke the tibia in his right leg while working on his tractor in early April.
The bone has been slow to heal. "That's not surprising," Crum said. "Your bones don't heal as fast as they do when you're 29."
They also don't heal as fast as they would if you followed the orders of your doctors. Crum refuses to wear the protective boot as frequently as doctors have asked.
"If I wore the boot all the time, I couldn't go anywhere," Crum said. "I couldn't drive."
"Wear the boot, coach," said Wagner.
"Get that boot on," chirped Wiley Brown, a starting forward on the Cards' 1980 NCAA title team.
6. Milt Wagner -- The Next Generation
Milt Wagner came to the University of Louisville from Camden (N. J.) High school in 1981 and left with the 1986 NCAA title as well as Final Four appearances in 1982 and 1983.
His son, Dajuan, was considered an even better player than his father, a guy taken with the sixth selection in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. That was one season before LeBron James arrived in Cleveland. Wagner and James were expected to position the Cavs for their first great run.
It never happened.
Wagner averaged 13.4 points as a rookie. But after one promising season, Wagner was stopped by knee and colon problems. He played in only 56 more games over the remainder of his career.
He turned 33 in February and his pro career is over. His entire colon was removed several years ago. Wagner settled in suburban Philadelphia to parent and coach his son, D.J. Milt Wagner has been touting the skills of his 11-year-old grandson for several years and said he would not be surprised if D.J. becomes a better player than his father or grandfather.
"If he grows and gets as tall as I am, look out," Wagner said. "He's got handles, he's fast, he can shoot. He's just special."
Wagner expects his grandson to start stirring national interest this summer. He will play for an AAU team based in New York City during a national tournament.
Here’s the kicker: Wagner said that his grandson is a Louisville fan.
7. No Knocking Steph Curry
Don't put Griffith or former UK star Derek Anderson in the camp of Old School players who believe the greatness of Warriors guard Steph Curry would diminish if Curry played in the league 20 or 30 years ago.
"Not with that ball-handling ability and range," Griffith said. "To stop him you have to pick him up a few steps before mid-court and try to stay in front of him the rest of the way.
"You can't do that with his ability to change directions. No way."
"All he needs is a tiny opening and you can count it," Anderson said. "He's that good."
For two seasons in Utah, Griffith played with Curry's father, Dell. Griffith said that several nights ago he received a call from another former Jazz guard, Ricky Green.
"All he wanted to know was how much fun we would have had if we had played for (Warriors' coach) Steve Kerr?" Griffith said.
"The greatest thing that Kerr gives those guys is the green light. As a player, you can't have anything better than the green light because you can go out and play without worrying about being taken out if you miss a shot."
8. Saving Crawford Gym
The former Cards were united in their sadness that Crawford Gym will be torn down this year and replaced by an academic building. Crawford was more than the facility where they practiced during the first half of the Crum Era. It was also the sweltering summer home to countless unforgettable pick-up games.
"If you couldn't play at Crawford, you couldn't play at Louisville," said Brown, a starter on the Cards' 1980 NCAA title game. "I don't care what your reputation was in high school. You had to prove yourself at Crawford first."
"Those older guys were rough on you," Wagner said. "But that's OK. It made you stronger."
Wagner, Brown and other players said that in a perfect world, Crawford would be preserved and transformed into a University of Louisville basketball museum.
"Crawford is where this program was really made," Brown said.
9. Eaves Gets His NBA Shot
Eaves' younger son, Anthony, played his senior season for Chris Renner at Ballard High School in 2014-15 before signing with Chicago State. But his older son, Frankie, just completed a solid four-season career at Appalachian State, where he scored more than 1,200 points and made 163 three-point shots.
Eaves finished second in scoring in the Sun Belt Conference last season. His goal is to play professional basketball, likely in Europe. But Eaves will fly to Charlotte Tuesday and participate in a six-player workout with the Hornets the following day.
"He can really shoot it," Wagner said. "With the way the game has changed, if you can shoot it, you never know what will happen."
10. Poll Results
What Was Your Favorite Muhammad Ali Fight?
George Foreman, 1974 39.1 percent
Joe Frazier, 1975 32.5 percent
Sonny Liston, 1964 14.7 percent
Joe Frazier, 1971 13.7 percent
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