BOZICH | Louisville players help Padgett deal with loss of uncle, brother-in-law
Louisville coach David Padgett credited his players with helping him deal with the loss of his uncle, Jimmy, and brother-in-law, Scott Crawford, over the last month.
DURHAM, N.C. (WDRB) -- This won't stop the chirping around the University of Louisville basketball team about the Cardinals' slide from second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference to scrambling to make the NCAA Tournament.
The king-sized losses to North Carolina and Duke. The gaps in the Cards' defensive efficiency.
But mostly the absurd suggestion Louisville made the wrong call when it promoted David Padgett to interim coach less than a week before practice began.
Coaching this program has been tougher than coaching in a thunderstorm without a roof and leaking pipes. Every time somebody says all clear, another wall collapses.
Not that Padgett has uttered a discouraging word. He hasn't.
If anybody has reason to feel sorry for himself, it's David Padgett. That's not his DNA. He has coached Louisville the way he played for Louisville, grinding though every practice and possession as if March depended on it.
Padgett huddled with his staff in a meeting room in downtown Durham Friday morning, finishing the Cardinals' game plan for their critical game at Virginia Tech Saturday at 1 p.m.
The Cards (18-10 overall, 8-7 in the ACC) had a spirited practice Thursday and another Friday before their three-hour bus ride to Blacksburg.
Cancer does not take a timeout for basketball season. Padgett lost his uncle, Jimmy, several weeks ago in Nevada. Wednesday, hours before the Cardinals played Duke, his brother-in-law Scott Crawford died in Louisville. He was 45 -- with a wife and two children.
You want to pick apart the way Padgett has handled this team?
Take your best shot.
Just remember to credit the guy with doing perfectly determined work in a relentlessly imperfect situation.
"It's been a tough month," Padgett said. "The family stuff is obviously the most important thing because at the end of the day, basketball is not life or death. Unfortunately we’ve had death to deal with on both sides of my family over the last couple of weeks.
"But my players have been so great. Basketball kind of takes your mind off that kind of stuff … it just goes to show how lucky I am to be able to coach such great guys. The basketball has kind of been, not the escape because it's my job, but it's been therapeutic going to practice and just kind of coach these guys and get them better."
This was not Padgett offering excuses for why the Cardinals have lost five of their last seven and slipped from the 68-team field on many NCAA Tournament bracket projections.
This was Padgett answering my questions about how he has proceeded while watching his father lose his best friend and his wife's sister, Shannon, lose her husband.
"We kind of knew it was going to be pretty soon (for Scott)," Padgett said. "It was peaceful. It painless. There was no suffering. It was tough. I feel for my sister-in-law horribly because you wouldn't even want to think about imagining that.
"A couple of weeks ago with my uncle, it was the same thing. My dad, it was really tough on him … (his uncle) was always around when I was playing growing up. He came to a lot of my games in college. He and my Dad were very close. It was tough to see my Dad struggle with it a little bit. He's doing well. Each day that goes by, he gets a little bit better.
"Like I said, it's been a tough couple of weeks. This too shall pass, I guess."
I took that as Padgett's suggestion it was time to get back to discuss beating Virginia Tech, Virginia and North Carolina State, games the Cardinals need to handle to remain in the NCAA discussion.
An NCAA discussion is something the Cardinals have shared in team meetings. Padgett does not play the pretend game that Louisville has not looked at the projected brackets.
"We’ve talked about it," he said. "We feel like we've got to win a couple of these last three games to solidify our chances. With that being said, we're not winning the games just to make the tournament. We want to try to win the games to try to win the games. That's why we do this. We play to win.
"We've talked about it obviously a lot more over the last week. Until about a week ago we had not discussed it as a team at all. It's where we are right now. It's this time of year.
"You don't want it to be the elephant in the room. So it's better just to address it and get it out there."
There is one other elephant in the room the Cardinals have discussed:
Why hasn't this been the same team that beat Florida State on the road, took Clemson and Miami into overtime and battled Virginia into the final minutes?
"Defense," Padgett said, crisply. "As simple as that sounds, the one-word answer is just defense.
"We took a long look at our defensive possessions the other night against Duke and then we went back and looked at a lot of our defensive possessions against Virginia Tech the first time around when we played them. Watched a couple of other things. Just tried to get back to doing what we needed to do on that end of the court."
Defense is non-negotiable. Padgett the player never had to be reminded about the importance of holding his position, contesting shots and blocking out. Not every player attacks the game the way Padgett attacked it.
"If there was one word to describe (what Louisville must improve), it's urgency," Padgett said. "Just not losing your guy when he passes the ball. Not getting lost coming off a screen. Not having your hands down when a guy is taking a shot.
"Just the little things. From a scouting standpoint we've done a good job all year paying attention to what we're supposed to be doing.
"It's just the little things, to when the play breaks down to where it's the difference to where someone scores. It's just kind of getting back to that mindset and that sense of urgency to where we've got to play defense to win basketball games … Hopefully we can come out against Virginia Tech and play well and get a great road win."
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