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2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Padgett’s return bolsters Louisville

Former KU big man bounces back from devastating knee injury


Louisville Cardinals

Stat Stuffer: F Terrence Williams (11.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 4.5 apg).

Why they could win it: Coach Rick Pitino has a history of getting his team to play its best ball in the tournament, and the Cardinals have enough versatile performers to beat teams that play all styles.

What could cost them: Cold three-point shooting. During current two-game losing streak, Cardinals have made eight of 37 three-pointers (.216).

Most impressive six-game: Feb. 4-Feb. 24: @ Marquette, 71-57; Georgetown, 59-51; @ DePaul, 88-68; @ Providence, 80-72; Syracuse, 61-50; @ Pittsburgh, 75-73.

Four months ago, Louisville coach Rick Pitino held a news conference to discuss the most recent injury to his center, David Padgett.

Listening now to the audio from that day, it's difficult not to draw parallels to a eulogy. The words themselves fueled optimism, but tears dropped off of every syllable.

Pitino talked about life after basketball for Padgett. As if trying to comfort Padgett, Cardinals fans, and even himself, Pitino preached the wonders of the injured player's future.

"David Padgett's career probably is coming to an end," Pitino said. "He fractured his kneecap. ... Because of his leadership, because of his intelligence, because of his fortitude, there are a lot of roads to prosperity for him. He does have an extremely bright future. It may or may not be in basketball."

Pitino sounded as if he didn't believe then that it would be in basketball.

"We all hurt for him right now," Pitino said. "On the other hand, I tend to look at the positive side, and the positive side is this young man is a great leader, extremely bright. Whatever he sets his mind to, he'll be extremely successful."

The best-case scenario, Pitino said, would be for Padgett to try to return in 10 weeks, "if we have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament."

Padgett returned in less than six weeks. Earlier in his career at Louisville, Padgett endured a broken foot, a sprained knee ligament and double knee surgery. Pitino said Dr. Norman Scott told him that in his 30 years as team physician of the New York Knicks he never had encountered a player with a pain threshold as high as that of Padgett, who transferred to Louisville after spending one season at Kansas University.

The Cardinals might seem an odd choice as one of the eight teams with a shot to win it all this season, but Padgett's skill and passion, coupled with master motivator Pitino's successful tournament history, make them an interesting darkhorse to watch in the NCAA Tournament.

On most teams, quarterbacks play point guard. Padgett is a 6-foot-11 point-center. The offense runs through him.

"He's our quarterback," Pitino said. "He's our best passer. He passes out of the post extremely well and he passes to break full-court press extremely well."

Padgett averages 22.9 minutes, 11.7 points, and 4.5 rebounds and uses his fancy footwork to set up so many easy shots he has a .686 field-goal percentage.

Pitino repeatedly has insisted Padgett is the team's most important player, but 6-6 forward Terrence Williams (36.1 minutes per game) is the best.

A skilled passer, Williams is quick and explosive, long and strong, and is a scoring threat from inside and the perimeter.

Juan Palacios, a 6-8 senior who is not the player he was as a freshman and sophomore because of injuries, and quick, strong 6-9 sophomore Ed Clark, and 6-8, 265-pound block of muscle Derrick Caracter give the Cardinals great depth up front.

Still, the Cardinals won't go far if muscular sophomore 6-1 guard Jerry Smith doesn't shake his shooting slump.

In his first 28 games, Smith shot .407 from behind the arc. In the past three games, his accuracy rate has been a mere .071.

Pitino's NCAA Tournament numbers are at the other end of the spectrum (a .744 winning percentage).

Hired to coach Boston University at the age of 25, Pitino coached the Terriers to the tournament and went to the Final Four with Providence (1987), Kentucky (twice, winning the title in 1996) and Louisville (2005).


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