CRAWFORD | For Louisville's Padgett, a splash of pleasure amid the pressure
David Padgett said he enjoyed his first big road win as Louisville interim coach because he enjoyed seeing the players' reactions -- but not for long.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It was, for once, a jubilant locker room after a big game. In a season of firsts for Louisville interim basketball coach David Padgett, this was a welcome one.
Hard as I try, there’s no way I can imagine Padgett kicking back in his (giant-sized) easy chair, looking up at the ceiling and thinking, “Isn’t this fun!”
From the second he was named the provisional successor to Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, a mere two days before practice began amid circumstances not before seen in the college game, he’s been under pressure. Whether it was running practices by himself to hiring a staff to winning games to losing a few of them, he’s been the guy showing up with a firehose and a whistle trying to fix things – and build a winner.
When the Cardinals lost their cool and dropped a 31-point decision at Kentucky, the screws tightened. When they took a nationally ranked Clemson team to overtime on the road but came up short, they got cranked another turn.
So when the Cards came from 17-points down to beat No. 23-ranked Florida State Wednesday night, I wondered if that might’ve gotten a smile from Padgett. I asked him if he’s had a chance to have fun at the job yet.
As you might expect if you’ve been paying attention to Padgett, his answer quickly veered off of himself, and into the direction of his players.
“Locker rooms after a good win like that are always fun, just to see our guys,” he said. “That's the best part, just to see how happy they were, because I know how frustrated they were with Purdue, Seton Hall, Clemson, those kinds of games. Just to get that -- obviously our older guys have experienced it, but just for the younger guys to experience what a great road win is like -- is awesome to see.”
And it’s good to see Padgett get to have that experience, too, even if he doesn’t view it as something to be enjoyed for himself.
Given all Padgett has experienced since September, you could understand if his demeanor might’ve soared toward the jubilant, or at least mildly celebratory. Instead, he showed up for an ESPN interview and answered questions as calmly as if he were reading the news. More calmly, in fact, if the news person in question happens to be a meteorologist during a snowstorm. The more emotional of us would’ve been one step short of Oscar-acceptance-speech proportions, given that Florida had won 28 straight at home, third-longest streak in the nation.
Padgett sounded like he was reading off BINGO numbers. You have to admire that kind of cool. A lot of people equate sideline histrionics with effort. Here’s the truth: No amount of sideline gyration can make a team that coughed up 21 turnovers in an overtime loss give it up only eight times a few nights later against an opponent that leads the ACC in turnovers forced.
For that, you need a tactician the players respect. That Louisville continually seems to be able to correct shortcomings during time between games is a good sign for the Cardinals – and an indicator of Padgett’s ability as a coach, though you’re not going to coax him into saying that.
“Well, they're smart kids so they listen,” Padgett said of his players. “You don't have to keep repeating things over and over and over. They listen the first time. It's just a matter of watching the film. It's amazing, film-wise, and Trent (Johnson, assistant coach) has talked about this before, because he's been around a lot of different kinds of teams, he'll say, 'I've never seen a team that is so intent and locked in when we watch film,' whether it's before or after practice or whenever it may be. And it just goes to show that these guys care about the scouting report, what we need to do, how we need to improve. They really pay attention to that kind of stuff, and it works, it's helped them, and they understand the game and are good learners and smart kids. It's a good sign to see, because you're not having to correct the same things every, single day. For example, after Clemson, we really focused on turnovers, so we took care of the ball. Now, obviously, in other areas you might struggle, like the rebounds, so we've got to try to fix that. But they seem to respond every time.”
On Saturday, the challenge will be to stop one of the nation’s most top offensive teams. Virginia Tech ranks second in the nation in offensive efficiency. Louisville is 13th in the nation in defensive efficiency.
Padgett is hoping his players will continue the kind of unselfish sharing of the ball that helped spark their FSU comeback, while continuing to grasp the defensive scouting report they’re given.
“Not only do they move the ball well and drive the ball extremely well, but they move off the ball as well,” Padgett said. “So if you're guarding in the corner and the ball's at the top of the key, you have to stay alert because your guy in the corner is going to move. They're very disciplined and structured with what they do offensively. They're very efficient. You just have to be alert the entire possession. You've got to know where your guy is and know what you're doing, and know where to contest shots. . . . A team that shoots 40 percent on the year from three, that's pretty remarkable.”
With luck, Padgett might experience another fun locker room after this one. You just might not be able to tell it. And don’t expect him to enjoy it for long.
I wondered if he got back to the team plane, kicked back and at least exhaled a little bit. Not really.
“As soon as we get on the plane, it's, 'OK, what's Virginia Tech do? What do we need to do?'” Padgett said. “But that's just the way it is.”
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