Just Cardinal Hoops Talk . . . Really

Oy. it’s enough to give a guy heartburn. (Though that might be thanks to the gourmanderizing I perpetrated on myself last night right before bedtime.)

Lawsuits. Now x 2. Fans suing the NCAA. Players suing the NCAA.

Then there’s that litigation of former employees suing the school after being fired.

Now there’s that pizza splatter all over the football program and the university since that Papa J has swan-dived off the side of the mountain onto the rocks below, fashioning his own professional demise, leaving lots of pissed off folks in the U of L community.

So . . . for a breath of fresh air . . . can we talk about some actual Cardinal hoops for a bit? I mean Coach Mack and Jordan Nwora did a meet and greet day before yesterday?

Yes, but one other item first.


When one enters the Yum! Center — the practice facility on Floyd Street, not the World’s Most Spectacular Arena with a riverview — there’s been a huge vanity poster of Rick Pitino on the wall in the entryway right by the door since the place opened. The Rick with full head of hair. Large and in charge.

It remained in place throughout last season, even though Pitino had been dethroned, and had sued the school for $40 million plus.

Well, the first indication there’s most assuredly a new sheriff in town is the new signage. Sayonara Rick. There’s now a big poster heralding the basketball program’s achievements. Including that U of L has been among the nation’s top 6 hoops attendance leaders for 37 years. (An arcane factoid admittedly, but it might come up on Trivia Night.)

Chris Mack’s bald pate is nowhere to be seen.

The other piece of wall art by the stairway is also new. It pictures recent Cards in the pros.

There was other proof positive that it’s a new day.

When Jordan Nwora was chatting about his experience on the Nigerian national team, he mentioned that play in the FIBA qualifiers was more physical than he experienced last year as a rookie in the ACC. He shared as how he was somewhat prepared since new strength & conditioning coach Andy Kettler has been emphasizing muscle building way more than his predecessor.

When Mack took over the mic, I referenced what Nwora had said, and inquired if his program’s strength/ conditioning focus is different than under the previous regime?

He leaned into the mic, his demeanor zeroed in to make sure the point he was about to make was clear, then intoned, “I think it’s very different.”

He explained further but first made sure the assembled understood he wasn’t dissing Ray Ganong, saying the latter was simply doing what his coach ordered. (Pissy aside: I don’t think we’ll be hearing the term “body fat percentage” too much anymore.)

“I want our guys to be tough. I want them to be physical. We don’t aim to get our guys big, we aim to get them stronger.”

He then pointed out that West Virginia’s players — Kettler assisted Bobby Huggs for a decade — not only were strong and physical but played a full court pressing style.

(I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my man Doc about our first impressions of Mississippi State’s players when they took the court for the Cards final game last season. Those guys were cut, they were muscular, and thus able to push the Cards around a bit. It’s obviously Chris Mack’s intention that such physical/ strength disparity won’t happen again.)

Other tidbits gleaned from the Q & A:

Nobody has yet emerged as the definitive team leader.

He doesn’t know if the roster is finalized. His exact words to the questioner, “You know as much as I do.”

The whirlwind that was his intro to Louisville has abated somewhat. “My days are slowing down.”

What he most wants from his charges are “every day guys,” a complimentary term he used any number of times during the conference. He specifically referenced Ryan McMahon and VJ King.

Of King, Mack added, “He’s tougher, stronger and is developing a chip on his shoulder.

“I want to get him to believe he’s the best player on the floor.”

The next few seasons shall be fascinating to behold, though U of L Cardinal basketball success might be a few seasons away.

That poster by the entrance isn’t the only thing that’s new and fresh.

— Seedy K