BOZICH | For Padgett family at Louisville, basketball remains father-son affair
David Padgett was a slugging first baseman until he had a growth spurt and became a McDonald's All-American in the same game with LeBron James. Now he is Louisville's basketball coach.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Fifteen minutes after David Padgett won his first exhibition game at the University of Louisville, he was abruptly reminded that he had a more pressing job than coaching the pick and roll:
His son, Nolan, was exploring his father’s new office at the KFC Yum! Center with the boundless energy that 4 year olds release. Nolan Padgett fell. His tumble to the ground was intercepted when his forehead collided with the corner of a desk.
“I gave my postgame radio interview with Bob (Valvano), and I walked in there and I heard him crying and I thought, ‘This isn’t good,'" Padgett said. “They got the bleeding stopped, and we spent the night in the hospital until 1:30 in the morning.
“Everybody said you’re going to remember your first game. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m definitely going to remember it.' "
Consider that moment the addition of another generational link to the Padgett Family Basketball Experience. At nearly the same moment Nolan tumbled, Pete Padgett, David’s father, was constructing a text message from his home in San Diego.
For the Padgetts, the basketball DNA began with David’s grandfather, Jim, who coached at California and Nevada. Jim Padgett’s teams loved to score. Defense was mostly a reason to get the ball back to score.
“When my grandfather would come back here and watch us play at Louisville, he would say, ‘I didn’t realize how good we were on defense,’ because he was an offensive-minded coach,” Padgett said. “He just wanted to score 120 points a game. He really liked scoring points.”
Louisville scored 101 in Padgett’s first exhibition as Rick Pitino’s replacement. The Cardinals won by 37. Pete Padgett connected with his son perfectly with this text message:
“Man, your grandfather would have been really happy with that.”
More than a week later, David Padgett was still smiling at the sentiment.
“It’s just memories like that that you cherish,” he said.
Four days before U of L’s first regular season game against George Mason on Sunday afternoon, David Padgett talked like a guy who planned to cherish every dribble this season, including the inevitable challenges from playing (and occasionally losing) to teams inside (and outside) the Top 25.
That’s the way Padgett has always played the game that has become his passion. It started with wheeling racks of basketballs out at practice for his father’s high school teams in Nevada.
Baseball was actually his favorite sport until junior high school. A growth spurt turned him into a 6-foot-9-inch sophomore who realized that it was time to make basketball his first love, regardless of how well he slugged the ball as a first baseman.
During the summer after his sophomore season, Padgett participated in the nomadic existence of AAU basketball. Players obsess about capturing the attention of the finest college basketball coaches. His AAU season ended at a championship game in Los Angeles.
“There was a kid from Akron, Ohio, that not too many people knew about,” Padgett said. “We were playing in the championship game and all of a sudden, 38 points later, everybody was going, ‘Whoa, who is this kid?' "
Sounds like the background of a guy who has won three NBA titles and four MVPs.
“Sure enough, it was LeBron James,” Padgett said. “You remember experiences like that. Playing in games like that and getting to travel the world and playing for USA teams, it’s an experience that many people don’t get, and I’ve been very fortunate to have them.”
In 2003, Padgett made the McDonald’s All-American team that included James, Chris Paul, Kendrick Perkins and others who proceeded to the NBA. That was also his goal.
“I never had thoughts of being anything but a four-year player,” Padgett said. “I obviously had aspirations to play in the NBA. I knew it was going to be tough to do. I just tried to enjoy the experience.”
He committed to Kansas. The story line was that Padgett would become the next Raef LaFrentz or Nick Collison, two guys who became All-Americans in Lawrence. Didn’t happen. Roy Williams left for North Carolina before Padgett made it to Lawrence.
He played one season for Bill Self before transferring to Louisville. He sat out the Cards’ 2005 NCAA Final Four season and then, as a redshirt sophomore, before he had played a game as a sophomore, Padgett was named a co-captain of the U of L team that went 21-13.
The Cards went 24-10 the following year before Padgett was named the sole captain of the squad that finished 27-9, losing the Big East regular season title on the final game of the regular season in Washington, D.C. His college career ended with three NCAA Tournament wins and then a East Regional loss to Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina in Charlotte.
As badly as Padgett wanted to play in the NBA, his knees stopped cooperating. He made it to the summer league and training camps but played two seasons in the Canary Islands before returning to work for Pitino as an assistant strength coach in 2010.
Padgett worked for Todd Howard for three seasons at IUPUI before Pitino recruited him back to Louisville for a third time in 2014. Now after the remarkable events of the last 6 ½ weeks, Padgett is primed to start his coaching career Sunday against Dave Paulsen of George Mason.
Then it’s on to Matt Painter (Purdue), Tubby Smith (Memphis), John Calipari (Kentucky), Mike Brey (Notre Dame), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Roy Williams (North Carolina), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) … and you know the list. So does he. These are guys who have been unfailingly nice to Padgett but would be happy to beat him by 30.
“I’m not going to go into any game this year saying, ‘I’ve got to out-coach this guy,'" Padgett said. “That’s not what it’s about. It’s about these kids making plays.”
It’s also about David Padgett taking the time to exhale and steal extra time with wife, Megan, as well as Nolan and his youngest son, Gavin, only 1 1/2. Despite the tumble in Dad’s office, Nolan will remain a fixture at every home game just as David Padgett was a fixture at his father’s home games and just as Pete Padgett was a fixture at Jim Padgett’s home games. So it goes.
“Nolan sits there very intently and watches,” Padgett said. “It’s just kind of funny. My parents said, ‘That was you when you were the same age.’ It’s funny how things work. When you grow up in that (basketball) household, that’s just the way life it.”
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