Bret Strelow column: Williams, Padgett still have a bond
CHARLOTTE ó Roy Williams crossed paths with David Padgett in late November, and they’ll see each other again tonight.
Williams’ decision to return home to North Carolina in 2003 left Padgett as part of a Kansas program that no longer employed the coach who had recruited him. He departed after one season and joined Rick Pitino at Louisville.
Williams won his first national title in 2005, and his team is one victory away from the Final Four.
The Cardinals are in the same position.
“There’s never been any hard feelings whatsoever, and he’s always followed me closely,” Padgett said. “I have great respect for him.
“It’s funny. If he hadn’t left Kansas, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come here and play for Coach and play with these guys. Like I’ve said with my injuries, everything works out for a reason.”
Williams saw a skilled big man who could move up and down the floor with grace and agility as he recruited Padgett out of Reno, Nev.
Padgett started 19 games in Bill Self’s first season at Kansas and cited a desire to play less with his back to the basket in a school release announcing his decision to transfer.
He picked Louisville over North Carolina and UCLA. There’s some belief that Williams didn’t pursue Padgett as heavily the second time around because he already was recruiting power forward Tyler Hansbrough to play the same position.
“We did talk to him about coming to North Carolina,” Williams said of Padgett. “He’s a wonderful kid who has had a lot of adversity and has bounced back from it in a great, great way.
“I loved him when I was recruiting him because he was a big guy who could run, who could catch, who could pass, who had savvy. I think he’s showing all of those things now. Rick has done a great, great job with him.”
Pitino recruited Padgett before he picked Kansas in the first place, and Padgett said Pitino worked harder than any other coach once the transfer option entered the picture.
“It was just one of those situations where I felt that Louisville was going to be a better spot for me overall,” Padgett said.
He sat out the 2004-05 season, broke a bone in his foot during a September pickup game and sprained the MCL in his left knee in a November scrimmage.
Padgett still started 24 games as a sophomore but encountered another knee injury in February. He recovered from surgery ahead of schedule and played in 33 of 34 games as a junior.
Padgett suffered a broken right kneecap when he took a charge in the second game of this season, and he thought his career might be over.
That possibility stunned teammate Terrence Williams, who broke into tears.
“There is new technology ó you can drive some cars without a key ó but that’s the key to everything on our team,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t going to work. I kept telling him and our trainer that he had to come back.”
He pleaded for Padgett to return and drew hope from the sight of him running on the sidelines, easing into the whirlpool or attempting to practice.
Roy Williams noticed the same level of determination in November, when he spotted Padgett in Las Vegas. North Carolina and Louisville were in the field for the Las Vegas Invitational but didn’t play each other.
“I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ ” Williams recalled. “He said, ‘Well, they’re saying the whole season. I think I can get back quicker. And if I can get back in January, I want to play this year. I don’t want to try to petition for a sixth year.’ ”
Padgett returned for Louisville’s game against Cincinnati on Jan. 1, and the Cardinals dropped their conference opener.
They have won 18 of their last 22 games, and Padgett’s play is a major reason.
The offense appears to run through Padgett, and he doesn’t hesitate to pass the ball out to an open teammate.
“Maybe it was good that I sat out the first six weeks,” Padgett said. “It didn’t wear my legs out playing those six weeks. It gave me a chance to be rested come tournament time.”
Padgett can find the positive aspect of any predicament.
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.