Prior to last night’s victory, the UofL men’s basketball team was having a rough start to the season as they had failed to record their first regular season win of the year even though they are now ten games into the season. The Cardinals only win prior to last night came in an exhibition game against the Chaminade Silverswords.
Since opening the season to the Bellarmine Knights, Louisville held their first three losses to a combined total of three points. Ever since then, their losses have been by a combined total of 151 points.
But, as former Louisville Basketball Manager, Ben Garvey, points out, a less than stellar season was always on the horizon for the Cardinals this season. In his opinion, the hiring of Kenny Payne was a hire that was exciting for a fanbase and a team who had been so accustomed to greatness.
Payne, who played under the legendary Head Coach Denny Crum, knows what it takes to be a Louisville basketball player and he also knows what it takes to win at the University of Louisville. So based on that resume alone, he was already a good candidate for the job once Chris Mack was let go.
Garvey noticed that it would have been difficult for this program, who at the time was still under the lingering IARP ruling, to “pluck a great coach already at a great program.” He goes on to elaborate that Heird could have offered the position to a coach from a mid-major program, but the other appetizing aspect of Payne’s resume is that he was also a proven recruiter as an assistant to Head Coach John Calipari in Lexington.
With a resume as a former alumni and a history of recruiting prowess, Payne rose to the top of the short list of candidates for the job. Ultimately, he would accept the offer for the position in March 2022 and has now been at the helm for the Cardinals for ten months.
The former Denny Crum product would take over a program that is coming off a losing season and would not return eleven players from the previous season. So, no matter who came in to the position it was going to be a difficult situation to usher into excellence. This is why Garvey acknowledged the fact that even before the season started that it was going to be a tough season for the Cardinals.
During the offseason, Louisville lost 70% of their scoring via the transfer portal or graduation. The leading scorer from last year’s team was Noah Locke, who averaged 9.6 points per game, and he has since moved on to Providence College. Following closely behind him was Malik Williams, who averaged 9.5 points per game, and he graduated from the program after five years.
Third in the scoring race was El Ellis with 8.7 points per game, who is now the leading scorer for this year’s team at 15.6 points per game. After Ellis came Dre Davis, who finished the season with a 7.4 points a game average, and he has now moved on to Seton Hall where he plays with his brother Tae Davis.
Three of the top five scorers for the Cardinals last year are now gone and the third-leading scorer is now the team’s leading scorer. The absence of an elite scorer on this team is a surefire reason why the Cardinals had trouble putting the ball in the basket last season.
Plus, Kenny Payne was hampered by the lingering IARP ruling while the transfer portal was open, so the possibility of adding a talented graduate student was off the table as these athletes would not want to spend one year of their college eligibility at a program that couldn’t guarantee the opportunity of a postseason berth at that time.
A lack of capability to usher in some talent from the transfer portal and losing eleven players from last season is enough by itself to set a program back. But on top of those issues, the stance Coach Payne holds on NIL for student-athletes could create some invisible barriers between the coaching staff and potential recruits. Garvey believes that if he wants highly ranked recruits to come here he may have to loosen his stance on NIL deals for his players.
Also, Coach Payne comes from the University of Kentucky where all of his resources and connections were formed through a Nike sponsorship. Now, he is at the helm for Louisville, which is an Adidas school, so the connections and resources he had prior to coming to Louisville may be null and void.
Lastly, the coaching staff and players have received a lot of negative publicity due to their lack of immediate success. If the Cardinals were winning, then the details would not be as noticeable. But since they were winless through nine games, every detail was exposed and critiqued by the fanbase.
Some of it is certainly warranted, but to the extent it was taken may not have been necessitated because as Garvey believes “most of the player development occurs in the hours you put in individually before and after practice.”
He follows with:
"“When I was a manager we had guys every night who wanted to get shots up very late and would put that work in. Practices are mostly for evolving players’ knowledge and fine tuning the skills they have.”"
Those opinions came from when he was behind the scenes as a former manager and what the current players do this year could very well be those exact behaviors.
Patience is key in this unique scenario for the Cardinals. This coaching staff was brought in for a reason and having faith in Kenny Payne, Nolan Smith, and Danny Manning is essential for the growth of this program.