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Louisville basketball needs an enforcer

The time for toughness has arrived.

NCAA Basketball: Seton Hall at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Boisterous / bois ▪ ter ▪ ous / adjective / noisy, energetic and rowdy (of a person, event or behavior)

“The Game Honors Toughness” – Coach Brad Stevens

The 2017 – 18 Louisville Men’s Basketball team is now 9 games into its season. At this juncture, its fair to contend that there are far more unknowns than things that we as observers would consider to be certainties. Despite not having a clear identity at this juncture, however, there is one thing that I as a fan am positive of: this team needs a clear cut leader, an enforcer, a junkyard dog, a take charge kinda guy.

I’d be willing to bet a decent amount of money that if the Cardinals decided to have their next team practice in the William F. Ekstrom Library, virtually no one would notice. The personalities, while engaging and pleasant, are like water and oil when compared to past Louisville teams that featured the likes of Ellis Myles, Chane Behanan, Montrezl Harrell and yes, even Jaylen Johnson.

When watching this UofL team play, I am humbled by the fact that my alma mater is being represented by such “good” kids, especially in light of all the utter shit storms that have taken place recently. In all seriousness, there probably isn’t one player on David Padgett’s roster that you would even remotely balk at in terms of having him over to your house for a last minute dinner. The problem is, being a good basketball player while simultaneously being the type of guy who always pats his opponent on the butt and helps him up after fouling them isn’t always the best formula for winning games against physical teams.

Louisville is like one of the many dogs you might see at Cherokee park, like a Great Dane for instance. Both are big in stature and physically imposing. Both could also be considered as highly skilled in some areas but at the end of the day they’re both typically all bark and no bite. This Louisville roster not only has little bite but even its bark can be questioned at times.

Obviously, you cannot ask players to be someone they’re not on the court. Anas Mahmoud is who he is – skilled but finesse filled (many might use the word “soft” here). Ray Spaulding isn’t going to morph into something different anytime this season, or next pending his return. He’ll continue to be quiet, reserved and at times indifferent on the court. VJ King will be the same tomorrow is he is today… explosive yet unassuming small forward who would probably shock everyone in his presence if he were to raise his voice past normal pitch. Quentin Snider leads by example but not by mouth. I could go on and on……

If one were to scan the Louisville roster with a fine toothed comb, he or she would be lying if they claimed to have found a clear cut enforcer. The good news is that there just MIGHT be a few potential exceptions that have been flying under the radar per se. Freshmen Darius Perry and Malik Williams appear to have a little different basketball DNA when compared to their teammates. Perry endeared himself to the UofL fan base early on this season with a break out offensive game in a win over a pesky George Mason team. When thinking back to the days when Louisville still played in the Big East, Perry strikes me as the type of player who would have fit that league’s style of play to perfection. He’s gritty, tough and defensive-minded. As crazy as it may sound, Louisville’s best chance at developing its own junkyard dog might lie firmly in the lap of a backup freshman guard.

Williams, who compared to Perry, has played sparingly in most of the Cards bigger games thus far. But it was during a small stretch in the Purdue game that I saw something that I really liked, something that actually made me lean forward on the couch: Williams played with a chip on his shoulder. On two separate occasions, Williams made up his mind that he wasn’t going to allow Purdue’s version of Paul Bunyan (Isaac Haas) to manhandle him in the low post by pushing back and declining to back down. Granted, I’m not a fan of players who like to stir up sh!t, but in the same breath it was refreshing to see a Louisville player refuse to be a punching bag and be the puncher instead. As Williams develops, my hope and prediction is that he will continue to gain confidence and be even more of a verbally imposing player. If he does, Louisville will be a better team for it.

Tomorrow is a pivotal game for UofL. Thus far, the Cards have failed to capitalize on two separate opportunities of beating “bigger name” non-conference programs in Seton Hall and Purdue. Despite the fact that this will not be a typical Indiana team, it’s still a rival whose name and conference affiliation would possibly carry a little extra weight come Selection Sunday. Aside from a late December tilt with Kentucky, this will be the last chance for the Cards to prove themselves against a decent non ACC opponent (damn, I dread conference play).

The time for UofL to start enforcing is past due. The same can be said for interim Coach David Padgett. He showed more emotion in the last home game against Siena. Perhaps as he continues to gain his footing some of the players will as well. After all, not one player entered this season with the idea that they would be taking criticism from Padgett and not a notorious grinder like Rick Pitino.

Being that tomorrow’s opponent is the candy stripers, it’s only fitting that I end with a quote from former IU Head Coach Bobby Knight, who certainly knew a thing or two about being a verbal presence and enforcer himself……..

“A quick way for any player to make himself better is to think about what he himself doesn’t like to play against.”

Let’s do this Cards. Beat Indiana.