Louisville fans prove yet again how they are among the best in the country in supporting their basketball programs. According to the official NCAA numbers just released The Louisville men’s Basketball program finished 3rd in the nation in college basketball attendance, averaging 20,846 fans per game. The Louisville women’s Basketball program finished fifth with 8,256 fans per game. The two programs combined had a total average attendance of 29,102 and that puts Louisville at #1 in the country. Our attendance for women’s basketball was better than five ACC men’s programs Notre Dame, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Miami.
U of L spent most of the 2000s fourth or fifth in average attendance until the KFC Yum Center, with a 22,090 capacity, opened in 2010. The Cardinals have finished third every year since. Freedom Hall officially seated 18,865.
Louisville ranked 5th and was one of the schools that had the most people watch them with 554,803 in 36 games last season in home-away-neutral settings and was one of just three schools to average at least 20,000 fans per game.
The ACC ranked #2 in conference attendance figures with a total of 3,005,685 fans that attended games and an average of 11,257. In Division I, attendance totaled 24,407,410 for the year. Although it was down slightly from a season ago, the attendance is the ninth highest total in history. However, the NCAA tournament total attendance increased. The tournament earned its third-highest attendance in history with 739,798 fans. The record-setting total of 800,377 came in 2012-13.
Kudos to the Cardinal Nation for showing up last season. Let’s do it again this season. Go Cards!
Media Day is a signal that our sports dry spell is almost over Cardinal Fans. Another exciting Louisville Football season is now only weeks away. It’s always great to hear from Coach Petrino, his staff and the players during this time of the year. Especially since the end of last season left most of us with more questions than answers. Talking with these guys on Saturday morning I felt the anticipation and excitement from them to get to Indy and open up the season. Everyone seems very optimistic but did not undersell the hard work they still had ahead of them to get ready.
Raise your hand if you thought that the Cardinal’s offense became too one dimensional at the end of last season. That’s one of the main things that Coach Petrino addressed in the off season. He went out and hired Coach Lonnie Galloway and Mike Summers to be co-offensive coordinators. With the help of Coach Summers the 2006 Cardinals were ranked 2nd in the nation in total offense. He is a mastermind of manufacturing and establishing a run game. Add that with Coach Galloway’s track record of recruiting and producing NFL talent at the wide receiver position the Cardinals could quickly develop into one of the nation’s most versatile offenses this season. It doesn’t hurt that they will have guys like Lamar Jackson and Reggie Bonnafon in the huddle.
Last season also left me wanting to see improvement on the Offensive Line and on the defensive side of the ball. Both units have new coaches and a new look. Both Coach Summers and Coach Sirmon know football and both know how to teach it. You can’t help but not get excited hearing these guys talk about their groups Saturday. And talking with their players you can see how they have bought in.
Much has been said about the performance last year by the Offensive Line… statistically Louisville had one of the worst last season. That criticism didn’t fall on deaf ears and both the players and the coaching staff seem motivated to get things turned around.
Coach Petrino went out and brought back Coach Mike Summers to help improve things on the O-Line. I got a chance to raise my question about the O-Line with Coach Summers yesterday. I feel like we’ve had size and ability but have lacked the intensity and nastiness at times up front. My question got a chuckle from Coach. But I want guys that want to line up and go hit the other team in the mouth.
Coach Summers has a great football mind and knows that it all starts with fundamentals. In listening to him yesterday It seems that he will use that philosophy to bring much needed improvement to his group this season. I think he will have those guys ready to be more physical and playing harder. We will see improvement.
I’ve written a lot and talked a lot about the Cardinals new defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon. This morning at Media Day I could talk to coach and ask him about some of those talking points.
Back during Spring Ball and again when I watched practice on Monday I noticed a buzz about the defensive unit; guys bouncing around more, having fun and keeping it simple. The thing I loved about the Vance Bedford years was how they had guys flying all over the field making plays and just hitting people. And they had fun doing it. Over the last two seasons I feel like the defense got too mechanical and there wasn’t enough freedom within the scheme to just go out and make a play.
Enter Coach Sirmon a guy I think can bring some of that excitement back. Watching his drills, you can see the way he wants his group to be active and by how he instructs you can tell he wants to keep it simple. Sirmon is blue collar football guy like Vance… these guys take Football and make it easy. Go hit somebody, make a play and have fun. You’ll hear me ask Coach Sirmon about this in the video.
Coach Klenakis is an offensive mastermind in his own right. So much so that he has his own three DVD set about the Pistol Offense. Coach Klenakis will use some of that knowledge this season coaching the tight ends. I think his knowledge will help that unit with their blocking assignments in run game and help them with their run after contact ability. Coach Klenakis is a program first, team first kind of guy.
I got to talk with Linebacker James Hearns, DB’s Jaire Alexander and Chucky Williams on Saturday. These guys are the backbone of what will be a very solid defensive group for the Cardinals this season. These three guys have a lot of swagger and they are ready to line up and get after it.
I love Reggie. He is my favorite player on the Louisville Football team and will be one of my favorite players of all-time. A genuine all-American kid. He understands the value of where he grew up, has a strong work ethic and takes pride in the program and himself. I had the opportunity to give him a hug and walk off the field with Reggie after the victory at Notre Dame (https://youtu.be/qCN8yvDDhGk).
I’ll think about that moment in my final days. As a long time, college football fan to have the opportunity to walk off that field and up that ramp after a big victory was surreal. And to watch a freshman QB get that program defining win for his city and his school shortly after losing his father was poetic. Could be a 30 for 30… Reggie Bonnafon is a winner and there isn’t a football program in the country who could’t use a guy like this.
What else is there left to say about Lamar Jackson. He is an elite athlete that has added both size and speed during the off-season. He has also worked on becoming a more complete QB. Having a more versatile offense around him with an established run game and that should make Jackson more dangerous this season than he was during his Heisman campaign. That should scare college football but it hasn’t. There hasn’t been a more disregarded Heisman Trophy winner ever. But that hasn’t fazed this young man and he is determined once again to prove his detractors wrong. This young man impresses me in so many ways but it’s his humble nature that I most admire. He’s not worried about the praise or the spotlight and just wants to help his team win games.
With the sports ultimate individual prize already in his possession there’s only one trophy that is on his mind this season. Talking with Lamar on Saturday morning he thinks that the Cardinals have the team to win a national championship. I’m not ready to make my travel plans just yet but I wouldn’t bet against Lamar Jackson.
The offensive line really did take the brunt of the fault for last seasons failures. And they do deserve a certain level of criticism. But these guys seem to have handled that criticism well and talk like they have really bought into what Coach Summers is trying to teach them. Lukayus McNeil, and Geron Christian are a couple of great young men and big young men. They will be the backbone of a new and improved offensive line this season.
I had a great time out at the first practice of the fall camp today. The first thing I noticed was how the guys seem to have put on a lot of muscle. They say championships are won in the weight room. It was obvious on that practice field today that this team has hit the weight room hard. Reggie Bonnafon’s muscles have muscles… he is a physical specimen folks. It is also obvious that this football team has a lot of athletes. Athletes at the skill positions and on both sides of the football.
There is going to be a lot of beef on the offensive line this season, but we’ve had size. We just haven’t had that nasty size. Our offensive line came off as very soft in several games last season. That should all change with the addition of Coach Summers. This is the guy that will implement that nasty streak. It is fun to watch him interact with his guys in practice. The Louisville offensive line was statistically one of the worst in college football last season. That will change this season.
Have a guy like Lamar Jackson on your team and you are going to win football games. Have a guy like Lamar Jackson on your team with talent and athleticism around him and you are going to win championships. Last season Lamar provided a smoke screen for a team with a lot of problems. Biggest being the offensive line and a defense that was lost. This season instead of having to worry about winning games for his team he will just have to help his team win games. Lamar has also transformed himself physically and has added bulk to his freakishly athletic frame. Get ready for Lamar 2.0 folks…
Driving a car is easy, but when you took your driver’s test and were worrying about all the little details it wasn’t that easy. Coach Grantham was a very good defensive coach but his defense was very detail oriented. Guys were more worried about where they were supposed to be under instead of just making the play. Enter the genius of Coach Sirmon. He is teaching his guys to make plays instead of just being in the position to make plays. His defense is very active and this year’s defense will be on skates flying around all over the field. You can already see the transformation. His defense is going to be less worried about the details and more focused on just kicking tail. More active and less reactive. And his guys are having fun. Another important part in all of this. I didn’t see a defense las season that was having fun.
I could talk about this team for days. I’ve only been excited about a few Louisville Football teams like I am with this one. We are going to enjoy cheering for these guys. After today I wish I was loading up the family and heading to Indy next weekend. Go Cards!
It is that time of year again… we’ve made it through another sports dry spell and now are weeks away from the start of another College Football season. There are several intriguing match-ups to open the regular season but none more than the Cardinals and Boilermakers. There is not much history between these teams and the only time they played back in 1987 the game ended in a 22-22 tie. But there is a lot of history between the Louisville Program and men who will be leading their teams into battle on September 2nd in Indianapolis.
To say that Louisville’s opener against Purdue hits home would be a massive understatement. If your last name is Brohm you are born a football fan. They are arguably the first family of football in this hoops crazy state of Kentucky and in the city of Louisville they are football royalty. The Brohm family, including mother, Donna, and sister, Kim, were recently inducted into the Louisville Catholic Sports Hall of Fame for their contributions to the game.
It all started with the patriarch of the Brohm family Oscar. Oscar Brohm was a Football standout at Flaget High School in Louisville during the 1962-65 seasons. An all-state performer he led Flaget to a 10-1 record and the Louisville City Championship in 1965 setting a Louisville city school record with 23 touchdowns. He was a passing QB when passing wasn’t cool. Oscar played QB for the Cardinals during the 1968 and 69 seasons. He would pass his offensive prowess down to his sons and they all helped create a football dynasty at Trinity High School in Louisville and for the hometown Cardinals. There have been four Brohm family members to be a football letterwinner at the University of Louisville, Oscar (quarterback 1966-69), Jeff (quarterback 1989-93) and brothers, Greg (wide receiver 1989-92) and Brian (quarterback 2004-07).
Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm had an outstanding career at Louisville from 1989 to 1993. He ranks among the Cardinals’ career leaders in touchdown passes. Jeff Brohm also served as an assistant coach at Louisville (quarterbacks coach in 2003-06, assistant head coach/passing game in 2007, and assistant head coach/offensive coordinator in 2008).
Greg Brohm is in his first season as executive director of administration and operations at Purdue. He was the starting wide receiver during the Cardinals’ 1991 appearance in the Fiesta Bowl, catching passes from his brother, Jeff. Greg served as the director of football operations at Louisville from 2004 to 2008. He also worked in local media and served as an analyst for the Louisville Cardinals’ radio broadcasts.
Brian Brohm is the Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach for Purdue… Before there was a Teddy and Lamar it was Brian who led the 2006-7 Cardinals to a 12-1 record, Orange Bowl championship, and a #5 final ranking in the Associated Press poll. His 30 touchdown passes that season are tied for second in school history with 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, and one behind Minnesota Vikings’ 2014 first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater. Brian is the only Louisville QB to be so close to a National Championship. In my humble opinion that team was a field goal away from playing for the Title. What could have been that season still haunts me.
During their three seasons together Jeff, Greg, Brian and Coach Petrino led the Louisville program to 32 wins, Liberty Bowl win, Orange Bowl Championship, Conference USA and Big East championship and twice finished in the Associated Press top 10. And by popular opinion were a field goal away from a possible National Championship. There isn’t anyone who has had a bigger impact on the rise of the Louisville football program than the Brohms and now they will be on the opposite sideline as the Cardinals open up the 2017-18 College Football season.
In his book The American Civil War, John Keegan wrote that “The American Civil War was to prove one of the most ferocious wars ever fought”. Not only for its nature but in the way it was fought. It was family battling family right in their own backyards. On September 2nd College Football is having its own version of a Civil War. Right in Louisville’s backyard in Indianapolis and it will be family versus family. I will be among the Louisville fans who will be torn on that day. The Brohm Brothers were Louisville First and they will be Cardinals Forever. If there is a more intriguing match-up on the first full weekend of the College Football season I don’t see it.
I have been waiting to post this big news ever since the rumor mill started spinning this week about Brian Bowen but I didn’t want to talk about it or count my chickens before they hatched. But now it is official and Bowen is going to be a Cardinal. Bowen is a legit 5* and an incredible athlete. He has a scoring prowess that should have a profound impact on the Cardinal Basketball season. His addition really should put Louisville right back in the conversation as National Title contenders.
This late addition to the Cardinals 2017 recruiting class is big in so many ways… It really shows that coach Pitino can still go out and land the great talent and its just further proof that this coaching staff is doing a great job to keep up with the growing challenge of keeping a college basketball program in the mix with the best in the country. Just this week it was reported that Louisville basketball had finished 7 consecutive seasons ranked in the AP Top 25 and that they were only 1 of 3 schools to achieve that feat in that time-frame. The way things are looking that streak will likely continue.
And after all the turmoil and chaos surrounding the stripper scandal news like today is just a breath of fresh air breathed back into the program that I love so dearly. I think that this solid recruiting class is just further proof that we have all that crap in the rear-view and that things are only looking up from here. Louisville Basketball is trending upward and we have a lot of great basketball ahead. We will have one of the best teams in the country this season and are looking head on at another great recruiting class next season with the possible addition of the best underclassman in the country 5* Romeo Langford. The future looks bright.
The commitment by Brian Bowen today pretty much backs up my sentiments. His camp sits back and watched how things unfolded during the college basketball off season. They studied the top teams carefully watching what key guys left early for the NBA draft, looked at the talent teams had coming back, and decided that Louisville would be the best spot for his development, get his minutes and to make a serious tourney run.
Folks I’m so excited today and nothing could wipe this smile off my face. Bowen has a jump shot that is as sweet as churned butter. And I love his hair. Trust me when I say that you all are going to enjoy watching this kid for hopefully a few years. Have a drink of your favorite beverage today and be sure to make a toast to the Louisville coaching staff. This was as clutch of a late add as you will ever see. Go Cards!
Bowen is a big and skilled wing who is full of upside. He is a legit six-foot-seven right now and pushing six-foot-eight. He has grown almost two inches since the end of his 8th grade year and might not be done yet gauging from his big feet and lanky frame. He has become a somewhat prolific scoring from all three levels on the floor. From a results standpoint he is extremely effective and efficient from the catch and shoot three point shot an dwell as the one dribble pull-up. He can put the ball on the floor going in either direction with outstanding perimeter footwork, and is a virtually ambidextrous scorer inside the paint with his floater game. His shooting stroke has made considerable progress when he is able to set his feet and fire with room and rhythm and will even take smaller defenders to the low post. His length gives him a definite weapon on the defensive end of the floor.
Weaknesses: A solid athlete who can play above the rim but doesn’t yet possess explosiveness or blow-by quickness off the bounce. His frame is long and lean so overall body strength and muscle to fill out his frame is a must. He is working through contact and can consequently be bumped off the line of his drive or finish. The release on his jumper is sometimes slow, and so he can consequently spray shots when his stroke is rushed. His skills say he needs a little time and space and he will do that best by learning to cut off and read screens and move without the ball.
Bottom Line: For a player who scores points and is a high level shot maker Bowen understands when he is open and doesn’t force the issue. In the college he can play at the four spot for some small ball game. Run a quick hitter or a set play and free up Bowen and the percentage s are good that he is making the shot. As he continues to fill out his frame and become a committed defender in a constant stance he will be an impact at the high major level. Bowen has become one of the better shooters in the class and as he continues to fill out his frame, become defensive minded he could easily grow in a 3 and D player for the NBA.
Back in October of 2015 the Louisville Basketball program fell under a dark shadow of scandal that has been ongoing for close to two years. The program faces allegations from the NCAA that include four level 1 violations by the basketball program and criticism of Coach Pitino for failing to monitor a former Cardinals basketball staffer… That dark shadow has now become the big red elephant in the room and hopefully in about 6 or 8 weeks we can move past this crap forever.
6 to 8 weeks is what Tom Jurich said in downtown Cincinnati Thursday after meeting with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, a group of lawyers and college and conference administrators. This is a hearing that plays out like a trial in court, with lawyers representing both parties. Louisville’s final chance to state their case. The University feels like they did enough by self-imposing a post season ban and taking away two scholarships. I agree. And think it’s time for the NCAA to let our program move on from this.
Here’s Tom Jurich’s full statement from Thursday:
As far as Coach Pitino’s part in this… when you put your trust and confidence into someone you in some way bear a certain level responsibility for their actions as well as your own. We all have an alter ego… Unfortunately for Coach Pitino his director of basketball operations alter ego was Ronnie Mund of the Howard Stern show. And instead of showing recruits around campus Andre McGee was running thru the halls of Minardi Hall screaming “let’s fuck some whores”. A guy like Coach Pitino runs in close circles think of it as a “circle of trust” and he had someone he trusted let him down. I do think Coach Pitino will be held responsible for trusting Andre McGee and agree he should. That’s just the way it goes.
I’ve seen and heard folks talk about the NCAA possibly stripping Louisville of the 2013 National Title. That has never been done and wouldn’t make any sense if it happened this time. If it did happen it would be more about bad politics within the NCAA than a player getting a lap dance. Having strip shows in the dorm didn’t have anything to do with the out-come of the 2013 season. It didn’t make those players collapse in tears on the court in Lucas Oil stadium when their brother Kevin Ware was injured and it didn’t help those players rally together and win that game. It didn’t help a walk-on Tim Henderson bury two three point shots in the National semi-finals and it didn’t help Luke Hancock go 5-5 from the 3-point line and score 22 points in the Title game. Those guys weren’t even mentioned in all of this. There is nothing that happened with those strippers in that dorm that did anything to help the 2013 Louisville basketball team win a National championship.
Why should those players have that special season taken away from them because the guy watching over them acted like he was in an episode of Blue Mointain State. The 2015-16 Louisville basketball team has already paid the price for Mcgee’s stupidity. And what about the fans. I waited 25 years to be in Atlanta that night for that moment. We all did. I followed that team at every stop along the NCAA path that season. Cardinal fans paid the price during the 2015-16 season and I think we paid again this past season. That post-season ban set this program back. The price has been paid.
Whatever comes our way here in a few weeks I will just be happy to get this over with. I’m ready to kick that big red elephant out of the room for good. We have all suffered enough.
The Louisville basketball program got some big man insurance for the future today with the news that UCONN 6-11 center Steven Enoch will transfer to play basketball for Coach Pitino and the Cardinals. Enoch visited the campus a few weeks ago and must have liked what he heard from the Louisville staff. The most important part of that conversation is how big of a role that Enoch could play in the 18-19 season. Enoch will sit out a year and then have two years of eligibility left.
Enoch is your typical Pitino type player. He was in the 2015 recruiting class with Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel, Ryan McMahon and Ray Spalding. And like those guys was labeled as a recruit with a lot of upside. Enoch was a 4* recruit and ranked #99 in the ESPN100. Here are what scouts said about Enoch in 2015:
Enoch is a late blooming big man who barely played high school basketball as an underclassman but has continued to both grow and develop at a rapid rate. He’s got good size with a naturally strong build and long arms. He’s a solid athlete who can change ends and play above the rim. His skill set has been well developed so that he is a consistent shooter from 15-18 feet and a threat from behind the three-point line. He’s starting to develop a jump hook over both shoulders with his back to the basket but also has a naturally high release point in or around the paint. He’s quick in catch-and-finish situations, a solid rebounder, and good shot-blocker.
He’s largely unproven against high level competition and still very much a work in progress. Consistency is arguably his biggest problem right now as he can disappear for long stretches at a time. He’s a product of a skill development generation and so while he can look great in a workout, he’s still learning to adjust to the many variables that game conditions and defenders create.
His recruiting has taken off by his long-term potential, now it becomes a matter of backing up his newfound reputation as he’ll have to turn potential into production on an increasingly frequent basis.
Enoch’s production and development at UCONN has been a slow go it seems, but having that year to work out with Coach Pitino and his staff will really be a big boost to that. I Look for Enoch to be a big-time contributor for the Cardinals in 18/19 season as well as his senior season 19/20… A great add to the program.
Here are Enoch’s stats during his two seasons at UCONN:
Coach Pitino’s best recruiting class since being the head man at the University of Louisville will be on display this weekend. University of Louisville signees Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Lance Thomas and Jordan Nwora will all play in the Derby Festival Basketball Classic Presented by Papa John’s on Saturday, April 15 at Freedom Hall. The Basketball Classic game tips off at 7:00 p.m. Aside from being one of the best recruiting classes it very well could end up being one of the more important ones. This 2017 group will have a similar impact that the 2015 group has had on the program. The Cardinals will head into the 2017-18 College Basketball season as one of the favorites to win a National Title and this 2017 group could play an important part in that happening.
This Louisville class is ranked #8 by ESPN, #7 by 247Sports, #10 by Scout, and #7 by Rivals. Three of the Louisville signees Williams, Perry and Nwora are well within the top 100 of each recruiting service and Thomas finds himself just on the cusp. Malik Williams who is considered the real prize among this group is ranked 20th by Scout, 25th by 247Sports, 29th by ESPN, and 27th by Rivals. Darius Perry is ranked 75th by Scout, 69th by 247Sports, 51st by ESPN, and 94th by Rivals. Jordan Nwora is ranked 146th by Scout, 46th by 247Sports, 87th by ESPN, and 90th by Rivals. Lance Thomas is ranked 103rd by Scout, 76th by 247Sports, NR by ESPN, and 142nd by Rivals.
I’m really impressed by the length as well as the overall skill of this group and can’t wait to see that on display first hand on Saturday night. Malik Williams is a long 6-foot-11 big man with a high ceiling. According to various scouts he has some rim protecting ability on the defensive end, an emerging face-up skill set on the offensive end and most predict him to have some serious star potential down the road. Jordan Nwora is a 6-foot-8 combo-forward and according to various scouts one of the top shooters in the class of 2017, not just from behind the 3-point line but also with his ability to make tough shots off the dribble. Most say that in many ways he is tailor made for coach Rick Pitino’s system. Lance Thomas is another long and athletic 6-9 Power Forward who various scouts say has a lot of potential. They say that he is a long-term stock who has multi-faceted tools and high upside on both ends of the floor but isn’t going to be ready to put it all together for at least another year or so. This kid really has a nice basketball frame and the foundation is there. I can’t wait to see how coach Pitino molds him into a big-time player. Darius Perry by all accounts is a tough and gritty point guard who will probably be Quentin Snider’s back-up as a freshman before having every opportunity to run the show as a sophomore.
This recruiting class really has me excited about the future of the Louisville basketball program. I’m looking forward to them making their Louisville debut on Saturday night in Freedom Hall. I know you really can’t tell much about players in these all-star type events but having a chance to see them in person will give us some idea of just how talented this group really is and just how special they could be for the season ahead. I encourage all Louisville fans to get out to Freedom Hall Saturday and give these guys an early welcome into the Cardinal Nation. Tickets are $18 in advance ($20 at the door) and can be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.com and by phone through TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000. Tickets for the game and 2017 Pegasus Pins will allow for free admission to the Horseshoe Foundation Derby Festival Night of the Future Stars, which will be held on Friday, April 14, at Indiana University Southeast.
I’ll have full coverage of the Derby Festival Basketball Classic on the site and over on the Cardinal’s Beak Fan Page. #L1C4
It took some time to process the Louisville football team’s loss to LSU and the awful way they ended the 2016 football season. The Cardinals would start the 2016 season with a lot of optimism and promise. But it wouldn’t end that way. There is an old cliché that says the third time is a charm… And although Coach Petrino finished the season with 9 wins and a 7th straight trip to a bowl game I don’t think his third season back as the head football coach at Louisville would be considered a charm. He finished last season with a lot more questions than answers about his football team. What had been a return full of praise and perceived success now mired by some failure and skepticism. The honeymoon is over.
But Spring is a time of renewal, and new growth and the signs of change are all around us. The same could be said for the Louisville football program. New coaches, new players stepping into key roles and an overall change in attitude seems to be the theme of the Cardinals Spring Football workouts. I got a real positive vibe being out on the practice fields on Friday afternoon for Louisville’s first open practice. There seems to be a renewed spirit along with more intensity overall and a greater attention to detail. And it’s not just the coaches who are leading the way. I noticed that the players were encouraging each other and holding each other accountable as well. That shows me that this coaching staff already has these guys buying in.
Here are a few other things that stood out to me:
The Louisville defensive unit had a lot of hop in their step on Friday afternoon. They weren’t just going through their reps and seemed like they were having some fun. I think new Defensive Coordinator Peter Sirmon has simplified things trying to make the defense more active instead of reactive. He and his assistants were really paying attention to detail but doing it in a way that their players better understood it. Or at least it seemed that way to me. Coach Sirmon has said that his players will set the depth chart. Just by being around this unit for a couple of hours it appeared that the message has been heard loud and clear. There are a few players who stood out. SR Safety Chucky Williams was active along with SR Linebacker Stacey Thomas, Junior Corner Jaire Alexander and Sophomore Corner Cornelius Sturghill. Some younger guys stepping up on Friday were Redshirt Freshman PJ Blue and Sophomore Linebacker Amonte Caban. There are a lot of studs on this side of the ball for the Cardinals. I really like this unit.
The Louisville Offensive line was horrible last season. There is not a nicer way to put it. They just completely stopped trying to block anyone in the Bowl game. There is footage of them literally side stepping a defensive lineman. If Louisville is ever to take the next step up Program wise, then this is an area that must be fixed and fixed fast. Enter new offensive line coach Mike Summers. Coach Summers hasn’t changed much since his last run in Louisville maybe a little greyer around the edges but the intensity is still the same. Watching this group on Friday I really like our size. Players like 6-7 315-pound SR Toriano Roundtree, 6-6 324-pound JR Lukayus McNeil, and 6-6 318-pound JR Geron Christian look the part. If they can learn some of that intensity and take on the identity of their new coach, we should see a big step up from last season.
Watching the offensive unit on Friday I can tell you that this team has a lot of talent at the skill positions and some size too. I could watch Lamar Jackson launch bombs to 6-6 JR Wide receiver Devante Peete all day. These guys tried that connection several times on Friday afternoon. Coach Petrino has several dimensions to his offense and again has the players to get it done at every level. I was most impressed with Redshirt Freshman Running Back Dae Williams. This kid doesn’t get rush yards he gets rumble yards. He and SR Running Back Jeremy Smith would be a great 1-2 punch. The play of the day was made by Sophomore Tight End Jordan Davis who had an impressive one handed grab for the completion. Wide Receivers coach Lonnie Galloway and Running Backs coach Kolby Smith are “Players Coaches”. They were right on the heels of their guys Friday. Smith was running through the gap with his guys making sure they ran every single play out. I think this will pay off this season. The Cardinal offense will be legit.
There was a lot of blame to go around last season but very little if any should land on the shoulders of QB Lamar Jackson. He had one of the most impressive individual performances in a season that won’t be duplicated for many generations. The only bad thing about that is that his team didn’t leave him with much choice. I think being surrounded by a solid team could really make his stock go up even more. There seems to be a big emphasis on using some of the other talent on this team and coach Petrino really spread the ball out on Friday afternoon. He had Lamar using his legs and his arm. Just watching and observing one practice I think we will see a more complete player this season out of our Heisman Trophy winner. I love seeing him hurdle players but it’s also fun to watch him throw those bombs.
It’s hard to really take in all that you want during just one of these practices but I did try to make my way around observing the things that I felt important to follow up on from last season. You’d have to search far to find someone who was more disappointed at how the 2016 season ended. But the program responded to that disappointment and positive change filled the spring air on Friday. I really like what I see and my optimism is thru the roof. I plan on heading back out to the practice fields on Tuesday the 28th for the second Open day. I would encourage you folks to do the same. Go Cards
One night back in November of 1988 at a Middle School gym in Owenton Kentucky a much younger version of myself was playing an 8th grade basketball game… the coach had just drawn up a play in which I would get the in-bounds pass and have a chance to score. My heart was pounding as I made my move and caught the ball. I remember spinning past the kid who was guarding me and breaking away in the open court as the crowd went wild.
I made the lay-up and began my celebration but immediately realized something wasn’t right. The reaction of coach Reynolds was odd and why wasn’t my team on this end of the floor with me…? You can imagine the horror when I figured out that I had just made a wide-open lay-up on the opponent’s end of the court. Turns out the crowd was going wild trying to get me to stop.
Fast forward to a night in November of 2011 in a Middle School gym… a 13 yr. old Carson Williams was playing an 8th grade basketball game when he came flying through the air and completed an alley-Oop dunk like you would see at the college level. That dunk would be the beginning of an incredible basketball journey for Carson Williams. That journey will come to a culmination in Indianapolis when Carson and his NKU team take on the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament Friday night.
I told you about my big middle school moment because that was more of the norm when it comes to the athletic prowess of a 13-yr. old where I grew up. Don’t get me wrong there have been a lot of good athletes come from Owen County but nothing like Carson Williams. You just don’t see too many 13yr old’s making plays like the one in the video above and there aren’t many 18-yr. old’s who could pull it off either.
In small rural areas, it’s hard sometimes for kids like Carson to get the attention they deserve. The AAU programs have really helped but it still isn’t easy to get on the right teams and get on the right courts. And when you do get on the right team and the right court you must take advantage of the opportunity.
Carson took advantage of the opportunity and dunked his way through the AAU ranks and landed a spot on the Lexington based Kentucky Travelers basketball team. The Travelers are a Nike sponsored AAU team who play in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League. Carson had his needle moving performance in AAU while at an event in Virginia back in May of 2014. That weekend Carson was 1-1 3pt, 22-38 FG 58%, 16-24 FT 67%, had 23 Rebs, 2 Assts, 3 Stls, 2 Blks, and 61 points. It was after this weekend in Virginia that scouts really started to take notice of the hometown kid.
There were several articles written that mentioned Carson’s AAU breakout weekend but probably none bigger than the ESPN Insider folks who called him one of the “Biggest Sleepers” of the class. In that article, they said:
Carson Williams: He is a strong and athletic wing and could be a very skilled 4 at the next level depending on future team and scheme. He plays hard, can shoot to 19 feet and will dunk on you if you are not paying attention. He had 21 in Kentucky Travelers’ loss to Team United (N.C.). The 6-5 small forward can be a mid-major stud or a great role player at a high-major school in the 2016 class.
It was his time in the AAU that really helped him get the important notoriety but Carson Williams also dunked his way to a very successful run at Owen County high school setting records that will last generations. He helped his team win a lot of games and a lot of District championships including a few trips to the All-A State semifinals. With the help of Williams, the Rebels basketball team was considered one of the best in the state even ranked in the top 10 of some polls. Carson never got the chance to play in the state’s biggest game but he did win Kentucky’s highest basketball honor the title of “Mr. Basketball”.
This past summer Carson’s journey landed him in the Derby Festival Basketball Classic. It is one of the premiere all-star games in the country and has seen many greats come through it. Carson had a great showing at this event and was a semifinalist in the dunk contest. It was a great night of celebration for all that he had accomplished as a high school player. I was proud to tell the other media court-side that he was from my hometown.
Carson Williams decided to continue his basketball journey at Northern Kentucky University. And he has been that mid-major stud in his first college season that all those scouts said he would be. He earned Horizon League freshman of the week honors a few times and has become an important part of the Horizon League Tournament Champion Norse basketball team.
Carson said that he chose to go to Northern Kentucky to help build the newly Division 1 program into a dominate player in the Horizon League. He said that he wanted to help them get to the NCAA Tournament. In year number one its mission accomplished.
There are a lot of great college basketball players that fall short of the dream of playing in the NCAA Tournament. Friday night Carson Williams will be representing all the years of hard work and dedication that it takes to achieve such a goal while overcoming the odds of coming from such a rural area. It also takes a bit of luck. But good things happen to good people and you won’t find a better young man.
Carson will be the first player from Owen County to make it to the NCAA Tournament during the modern era and only the second ever. He will be representing all the folks that grew up there. Everyone has followed along on his journey and has a lot of pride for his accomplishments. One of the reasons he went to NKU was so his family, friends and community could come to his college games. It’s only about an hour from Owenton to Highland Heights as the crow flies.
Carson brought a lot of hometown spirit back to those Owen County school gyms and that spread throughout the community. It also spread to folks from there that live all over the country.
I reached out to Carson Williams and his family and asked them what it meant to be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Carson’s Mother Heidi Williams:
“Some people questioned his decision to go to NKU but we felt like that with the new coach and the move to the Horizon league that it was a good fit and they may make it to the tournament but we never dreamed it would be this soon. It’s been very exciting and fun. He’s had a great deal of support from family, friends and Rebel Nation and I’m glad the community is so excited about the tournament. Carson has worked very hard for the past 14 years and it’s great to see him and his teammates get to enjoy this.”
NKU Freshman Carson Williams:
“Most every young basketball player dreams of playing in the NCAA tournament and I was no different. It means a lot to me to have that dream become a reality especially considering the countless hours of hard work that I’ve put in to help me get to this position. With that being said, no matter how good or popular the team we play is I don’t approach this as anything other than just another game.”
Many of the same folks that were in that Middle School gym the night Carson had that big dunk will be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday night. And the folks who can’t make it will be tuned in to watch their hometown boy fulfilling yet another dream. That kid who put the ball in the wrong basket will be there too. I love being a Carson Williams fan and watching him play takes me back to my younger days. I didn’t have an ounce of the ability but at one time I did have a similar dream.
I wrote this week about the special moments we often see during March Madness. It is three weeks where real life dramas play out during a College Basketball Tournament. For Carson Williams, his family, his fans, Owen County and NKU Friday night will be that special moment. Good Luck Carson! Good Luck NKU!