LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The University of Louisville men’s basketball players sat in the third row from the field, Section 103 in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for the football game against Murray State on Saturday.

When they got up to walk out a few minutes before halftime, the entire seating section stood up to cheer, then the sections next to them, soon it spread around the lower bowl.

They walked onto the field, stood against a wall in the north end zone and waited for halftime, when they were introduced to the crowd, and listened to a rousing ovation.

Before going out, someone with a headset asked, “Where’s coach Padgett?” He wasn’t on the field. He said he wanted the players center stage. He’d stay in a box belonging to his father-in-law, with his family.

He was introduced to a loud ovation, and a stadium camera found him, waving. Then the players were introduced, and they received their cheer.

It likely won’t be the last for this group, which is as adversely affected as anyone by this past week’s events, the revelation that the school’s coaching staff was implicated in a federal college basketball corruption and bribery complaint.

Their top newcomer, Brian Bowen, is being withheld from games and practices.

But the Cardinals will go on. Padgett said he was amazed at their resilience when he met with the media on Friday. He said the day the news broke that Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich had been placed on administrative leave, he walked into the basketball facility for a regularly scheduled workout in the afternoon.

“I walked into the gym and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so much enthusiasm and excitement from a group before and I was stunned,” Padgett said. “It took me back and I was standing next to Fred (Hina), our trainer. He just looks and me and goes, ‘This is a special group.’ I firmly believe that. I kind of knew at that point that this is a resilient group. They’re extremely close on and off the court. There’s not a better group in the world that I would pick to try to go through this season with. I firmly believe that, I told them that, I told their parents that.”

Before being introduced, the players joked around, posed for pictures. They interviewed each other with their cell phones. There were lots of smiles. They seemed comfortable. They seemed to be enjoying each other.

It’s easy to tell it’s a new era in Louisville, already.

The basketball team was front and center. The coach was tucked away in a suite, watching.

Padgett said he wants this season to be about those players, and the program’s fans.

At the team’s first public event since he was named acting coach, it looks as if he meant what he said.

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