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A Media Day Like No Other

If you have attended too many basketball media days, like some of us around here, it’s impossible not to discern the general pattern.

HC makes an opening statement, starting with how excited he and his troops are for the beginning of the season. He’ll extol the virtues of the players in the weight room, how they’ve drilled working on their deficiencies from the previous campaign(s).

He’ll talk about leadership. He’ll generalize about what the offense and defense will look like.

During the ensuing Q & A, the assembled media will inquire about last year’s underperformers, which of the newcomers have impressed, is the five star McD’s A-A the real deal? Are there any injuries? Has the wing who had to sit out the end of last season with a bum ankle fully healed?

What have the new assistants brought to the table?

What does he think of preseason rankings?

How worried is he about the opener against a Top 5 opponent?

Yada, yada, yada.

Kenny Payne’s first Media Day presser as HC for the Louisville Cardinals was for the most part pretty darned different.

He talked about culture.

He talked about the importance of bringing the community together.

He talked about working to get the players to conquer their shortcomings, to get them to realize and attain their full potential.

His whole demeanor was to lower expectations of a Cardinal community ready and anxious for an immediate return to the upper echelon of college hoops.

His first sentence, which he later kind of recanted, was how excited he was about Friday night’s Louisville Live at Slugger Field.

That recantation which came at the end of his presser is his whole modus operandi in microcosm:

I’m a little afraid of the hype of Louisville Live. I want substance, but every program needs the hype. We need the attention and the notoriety of having something that’s special about us. We need Jack Harlow to be there, but also, we need to know that that’s not the main thing. The main thing is substance.

In the rest of his short opening statement there was no mention of a single member of his squad. His specific answers later about individual players were fleeting at most.

The first was of transfer big BH-H ( Brandon Huntley-Hatfield) and that was just as an example of how he is trying to develop close personal relationships with his charges.

El Ellis was next, but only in the context of who else will be called upon to bring the ball up court and act as PG? His response contained short mentions of Fabio Basili and Hercy Miller.

He was asked how it felt to coach is son, walk on Zan?

He did offer a considerable response about JJ Traynor. Most of which was about building up the junior wing’s confidence.

Which assessment was not dissimilar to a query about enigmatic Jae’Lyn Withers. From whom he’s hoping for/ looking for leadership, along with fellow captains, Ellis and Syd Curry.

There were no questions nor mention of Devin Ree, Mike James, Roosevelt Wheeler, Kamari Lands, who are the other expected contributors.

It was not offputting, just odd. Different.

It was simply like no previous Media Days this scribe has attended.

* * * * *

KP did briefly chat about his offensive and defensive philosophies, without offering any specifics.

On O, he wants to be long and athletic. A great offensive rebounding team. A good post up team. A good passing team. He has been emphasizing what to do to get good three point opportunities. With ball movement and body movement. Getting good drives and layups in rhythm.

As for D, nothing specific but this:

I can say it to you like this, every successful team I’ve ever been a part of won off their defense. Now, that doesn’t mean they weren’t great offensive teams, but we won games off of defense. So, the one thing that I know is that in order to win games and win on a high level, you better be defending, and you better be defending desperately.

* * * * *

To advise that this year’s Media Day was substantially different than last is a Duh!

Last time around Chris Mack — Remember him? — was asked a lot of questions about his suspension, the failures of the previous season, and new assistant, alleged offensive guru Ross McMains, and whether he would really be the “Offensive Coordinator.

Mack: I hope I have the humility to deal with it.

I could go on and on about what a difference a year makes. The notebook I grabbed to take notes yesterday happened to be the one with Media Day jottings from a year ago.

There is simply no reason or desire to look back for another nanosecond. There has been a defenestration of the previous regime. The windows have been opened, and fresh air is blowing in.

* * * * *

Being a retired barrister, it was of interest here to chat with Justin Perez, the new Director of Men’s Basketball Administration, now a member of the New York Bar.

When asked during a one on one what his duties were, the articulate recent grad of Columbia Law School advised, “Whatever Kenny asks me to do.”

(Which was not that different from “retired” Kenny Klein’s answer when inquiry was made about his duties with the men’s program.)

Perez’s life goal is to be “president of an NBA franchise.” To that end, his favorite courses in law school were four about various aspects of sports law. That experience was certainly different than the one to be had at U of L Law in the late 60s, which was just the basics. Torts. Property. Wills & Trusts. Uniform Commercial Code. Tax.

It seems as if Perez’s presence in the U of L program, even in or especially because of an undefined role, fits in the Kenny Payne world view. Culture. Good intelligent people.

Plus, you know, with Perez, there’s that ROC Nation connection. Which certainly has to help in these changing times.

* * * * *

Not sure there was anything special worth reporting from interactions with players.

They’re working harder than ever. Harder than some ever thought possible.

Whatever else might be missing, the Cardinals should be in shape.

* * * * *

Asked about similarities or differences between his approach and his experience when he arrived to play for Denny Crum:

A little bit of both, but I’d say my own approach. I think I didn’t have the ‘know how.’ I may have been talented, I didn’t have the experience that a Billy Thompson, that a Herb Crook, those guys had been in college longer. I came in just a skinny, slow kid that just was like… ‘what do you mean that the offense has got to pass the ball six times? What do you mean I’ve got to cut here?’ I was used to throw me the ball and let me shoot it.

The last sentence made him (and the assembled) break out in a laugh.

— c d kaplan