As much as it pains some to admit (particularly those residing a few miles down I-64 East), Louisville basketball is one of the most storied programs in all of the country. Along with having gathered three National Championships, the Cards have appeared in ten Final Fours, rank inside the top five in NCAA tournament appearances, and just outside the top five in NCAA tournament wins. Almost the most impressive feat, the program, and its fans, have been lucky enough to have a grand total of two head coaches over the last four decades.
If we’ve learned anything since posting our all-Pitino Louisville 12-man roster on Tuesday afternoon it’s that, while every Louisville fan loves and respects all of the greats the Cards have put on the floor in the past, the old-heads love the Crum guys, while the young-heads love the Pitino guys. This is understandable.
I myself, by no fault of my own, am a member of the latter group. While I love and respect Crum greats like Darrell Griffith, Pervis Ellsion, and Rodney McCray, I am only 21 years old, so the affection and attachment I feel toward, let’s say, a Peyton Siva (who brought me my lifetime’s lone championship) is going to be different from what I feel for a player of whom I’ve only seen in YouTube clips. Believe me, if I could, I’d go back in time to sit in Freedom Hall and watch the Doctors of Dunk. So before anyone over 40 gets mad, please realize that I am neither friends with Dr. Emmett Brown nor do I have a flux capacitor (being able to make that reference should at least gain me a few points).
That’s not to say that I haven’t done my due diligence on the history of the program. I’ve watched the championships in their entirety. I’ve seen, albeit years later, Griff’s athleticism, LaBradford’s pick-pocketing artistry, and Ellison’s fearsome presence at the basket. I’ve read the books and the articles. I’ve listened to Drew Deener in the morning, Tony and Dave in the afternoon, especially in the summer, when these type of conversations happen.
So today, serving as somewhat of a sequel to the all-Pitino piece, here’s my personal all-Crum team. I’ll take a suggestion from the podcast and, for the sake of argument, narrow the roster from a full 12-man team to an eight-player conversation. And while I’m at it, I’ll narrow my all-Pitino team to just 12 guys.
Crum coached for 30 years, so it’s inevitable that a handful of great players will be left off the list. Also, I won’t say who I think would win in a game between the two squads; that’s a podcast-worthy conversation (*cough*, Nick, *cough*). Agree, disagree, get bummed out, cry yourself to sleep, whatever you do, just make sure you comment or tweet (either the Cardinal Connect or me personally, @CoreyGoodlett) your thoughts. Large-scale debate is one of the beautiful things the internet has enabled us to do without having to be face-to-face, so take advantage. Just remember we’re all on the same team here.
The All Time Denny Crum Team Starting Five
DeJuan Wheat (Point guard) - DeJuan Wheat, although maybe not the most successful Crum players in terms of wins, was an absolute star for the Cards in the last decade of the Crum Era. Wheat was a deadly scorer and shooter who racked up over 2,100 points in his career, good enough to place him second all-time in Cardinal scoring, but also a great passer, having dropped nearly 500 assists. His 323 career threes place him atop the Cardinal three-point field goal list; that kind of shooting from a point guard is invaluable. As a senior in 1997, Wheat was the key guy on a team who made it all the way to the Elite Eight, only to get blown out by UNC. As an individual player though, it’s hard to find a better point guard from the Crum Era than the kid from Ballard High School.
Darrell Griffith (Shooting guard) - The undisputed greatest player in the history of Louisville basketball. Griff, the all-time Cardinal leader in scoring (2,333) and, until Peyton Siva broke his record last season, steals, was a two-time All-American, a Wooden Award winner, and the man responsible for Louisville’s first National Title in 1980. In his final season at Louisville, Griff scored an outstanding 825 points. That stat is incredible considering no other player in UofL history has amassed more than 700 in a single season. Griffith’s athleticism and offensive prowess are gleefully talked about to this day, more than 30 years after his Cardinal career came to a close.
Rodney McCray (Small forward) – Rodney McCray, a 6’7 swingman who started as a freshman for the 1980 National Champion Cards, was a lockdown defender who had the athleticism to guard smaller, quicker guards on the perimeter and the length to take on big guys in the post. Aside from his identity as a great defender, McCray is also known for his explosiveness around the rim, helping earn the team the moniker “Doctors of Dunk.” The numbers also speak to McCray’s greatness: He’s one of only four players in UofL history to score more than 1,000 points and sneer over 1,000 boards. A one-time National Champ, McCray participated in the Final Four in three of his four seasons at UofL.
Billy Thompson (Power forward) – I know that (like Earl Clark in the last piece), Billy Thompson is more of a small forward, but could easily play as a four man in this lineup. It’s also hard for me to put Billy in this spot over Cliff Rozier, but we all love the champions, so I’ll stick with Billy for now (although I’ll probably come to regret it). Thompson starred on the ’86 championship squad alongside Pervis Ellison and put up solid statistics in his career at Louisville. His 1,600-plus career points are good enough to place him just outside the top ten in all-time Louisville scoring, while his 930 rebounds and 153 blocks rank him eighth and seventh respectively. His post-Cards career includes two Championships with the Showtime Lakers (that’s pretty rad) as a backup.
Pervis Ellison (Center) – Who else? Since John Calipari became coach at Kentucky, the Cats have made their living off of star freshmen (and hey, I’m not knocking that. With the exception of last year, it’s gotten the job done. So, kudos), but you can’t say that Louisville hasn’t ever done something similar. In Never-Nervous Pervis’ first year as a Cardinal in ’85-’86, he led UofL to its second National Championship in the decade, while bringing home Final Four MVP honors. Ellison is the only player in school history to score over 2,000 points (2,143 to be exact) and grab over 1,000 rebounds (1,149). The best center in Louisville history is probably best known for his defensive dominance; his 374 blocks are the school’s record. Simply put, no one was getting near the rim if Pervis was around it. Although his freshman season was his most successful if you’re judging by wins, Ellison’s career as a whole is one of the most celebrated of any Cardinal.
LaBradford Smith (Point guard) – Although I personally prefer DeJuan Wheat (can’t help it, I’m a sucker for point guards who can shoot the ball), LaBradford Smith is widely believed to be the best point man to play under Crum. Smith is the all-time assists leader at UofL, tallying more than 700, as well as the seventh leader scorer in school history with more than 1,800 points. A lightening quick point guard who could score, pass, and play defense (he’s top three in steals as well) LaBradford Smith is fondly remembered for good reason. It’s also worth noting that he’s also the all-time leader in free-throw percentage (I seriously just can’t take that for granted after how bad the free-throws were last year. Seriously. They were real bad. Seriously.).
Milt Wagner (Guard) - Since I’m limited to eight spots on this list, cuts are getting harder and are hurting worse. I’m confident going with Milt as my seventh guy, but it pains me to place him here over Derek Smith. Derek was a champion, a fantastic scorer, and the dude often credited for making the high-five cool, but I’m going with Milt Wagner solely based on his more all-around diverse game. Milt was a 6’5 athlete that could play either guard position, defend, shoot, pass, and hit free-throws at an 80 percent clip (seriously, the free-throws were bad last year, guys). All in all, Milt racked up 1,834 points, 432 assists, led the cards to three Final Fours, a Championship, and a Sweet 16. I love ya, Derek, but Milt’s my guy here.
Cliff Rozier (Center) – For me, Cliff Rozier is kind of like David Padgett; just a good, good big man. Like Padgett, Rozier was a transfer (from UNC), that became great as a Cardinal. Although he only played two seasons for UofL his impact was felt immediately. In his two years, he was named Metro Conference Player of the Year twice (1993 and 1994) and was a first-team AP All-American as a senior. Cliff was good for a double-double every time he stepped on the floor, posting over 40 of the them in his two seasons. He averaged 18 points and 11 boards as a senior, up from 15 and 10 in his first year. If you enjoy solid, non-flashy, fundamental play out of your big men, then Rozier, like Padg, is someone you should look in to. Also, his name was Clifford, he was big, and he wore red. That’s awesome.
Toughest exclusions – Derek Smith, Junior Bridgeman, Lancaster Gordon, Herb Crook
The All Time Rick Pitino Team Starting Five
1. Peyton Siva (point guard) – No, he doesn’t shoot the ball well consistently. Yes, he has a tendency to over-penetrate and kill offensive flow. Siva does, however, have two attributes that make him the best point guard to play under Rick Pitino at Louisville. The first is heart. During his career, Peyton has overcome midseason slumps, fan criticism, and self doubt to become the heart and soul of a team that went to back-to-back Final Fours and captured one national title. The second is his nonstop defensive effort and intensity. Despite all of his offensive shortcomings (which there really aren’t a lot of), Peyton was the posterboy of the full-court press that has become Pitino’s trademark and Louisville’s identity. Lastly, for Siva, the numbers that he compiled over four seasons speak for themselves. He’s the only player not named Patrick Ewing to win back-to-back Big East Tournament MVPs, Louisville’s all-time steals leader, Louisville second all-time leader in assists, a two-time Final Four participant, and a one-time national champion. The doubts about Siva end now. He’s a smart, athletic point guard with immeasurable heart and the undisputed leader of two great teams.
Reece Gaines (shooting guard) – Probably the best player Pitino has had at Louisville, Gaines’ talent and accomplishments are undeniable. In addition to being a killer shooter and scorer (fourth all-time at Louisville), Gaines was also a great passer (he’s in the top five all-time for assists at Louisville) and a great defender (he’s also top five in steals). As much as the numbers speak to the greatness of number 22, there are YouTube search-worthy moments of his Cardinal career that cement his legend and never fail to induce goosebumps. One being his fearless pull-up three to beat Marquette in their building with under five seconds remaining, and another being his downing of two of three Louisville three-pointers in 30 seconds that capped a comeback over Tennessee in Freedom Hall. Reece also led the Cards to a 2003 Conference USA Tournament championship with a win over Marquette (which had some guy named Dwayne Wade who led them to a Final Four that same year).
Francisco Garcia (small forward) – Before finding longevity in the NBA, Garcia served as a leader on a handful of very talented Louisville teams, including the 2003 C-USA championship team and the 2005 team that made it all the way to St. Louis for the Final Four. Garcia, who averaged nearly 15 points for his career, was a long, solid defender with NBA size and a very reliable shooter. Garcia shot nearly 45 percent from the field for his career and almost 85 percent from the line (a stat that should never be taken for granted by Louisville fans, especially after last year). Anyone who watched him knew that Garcia’s presence on the court was key for Louisville.
Earl Clark (power forward) – One of the more NBA-ready players that Louisville has had in recent years, Clark played on a 2008 Louisville team that brought the program its first-ever no. 1 ranking and landed the tournament’s top overall seed. In his final season as a Cardinal before turning pro, Clark averaged 14.2 points and nearly nine boards per game as a junior. At 6’10, Earl was a good midrange shooter and could take many of the slower, less agile forwards that marked him, off the bounce (type “Earl Clark Luke Harangody” in a search box and see what you find). Although I’ve often questioned his heart when looking back at the Elite Eight losses to North Carolina and Michigan State in consecutive years, the more I look back on his accomplishments and highlights (most notably his dagger to lift Louisville over then-no. 1 Pitt), the more I miss hearing the words “EEEEEE-FIIIVEEE…Clark!” fill Freedom Hall.
Gorgui Dieng (center) – Gorgui Dieng may be the most beloved player of the Pitino Era. On the court we love him because of his shot blocking/altering, his post passing, his elbow jumper, and his leading the Cards to two Final Four appearances and a National Championship. Off the court we love him for his accent, his contagious smile, his humility, his oblivious parents, his smarts, his heart and the genuine sincerity with which he speaks. I could make an on-court argument for why Gorgui would be the starting center on an all-Pitino team, but I’m not sure that anyone would disagree in the first place.
Terrence Williams (Small forward) – A lot of people disagreed with my decision to place Francisco Garcia in the starting lineup over Terrence Williams. I understand that completely. T-Will could do just about anything on the basketball court. But when I look back on Francisco Garcia, I picture a firey leader who was the heart of the ’05 Final Four club. Cisco stepped up big in big moments; he had a handful of huge game winners (Marquette comes to mind) and was the glue that held his teams together. T-Will on the other hand, while possibly more talented overall, and undoubtedly more athletic, disappointed in big moments. As Nick alluded to on the podcast, T-Will acted like a complete baby as soon as the Elite Eight game against Michigan State seemed doomed (which was early), and lost a tough one to UNC in the same round the year before that. T-Will was a super passionate player, but not the caliber leader of a Francisco Garcia or a Peyton Siva. Did Siva throw in the towel in the Big East championship game when it seemed that Syracuse would win in blowout fashion? Absolutely not. Don’t get me wrong, I love T-Will. In fact, he’s probably my personal favorite Cardinal of my lifetime, but I can’t place him in the starting lineup over Garcia, not after that MSU game.
David Padgett (Center) – If this team were real, and I were coaching, believe me, I would have a Garcia, Padgett, Dieng front-court on the floor A LOT. Or a Williams, Padgett, Dieng. Or if I want to go big, how about a Clark, Padgett, Dieng frontline? Some disagreed with having Earl Clark as a starter, but let’s face it, David Padgett is a center. He’s made for the middle. For me, a good power forward should be able to do a fair share of banging down low and spreading the floor. Earl Clark in a starting lineup does that, David Padgett does not. I love David Padgett, I can’t say enough about what I think of him. He’s not a starter, but making an eight-man roster for the entire Pitino Era isn’t too bad either.
Russ Smith (Shooting guard) – As bad as I want to put Taquan Dean in this final slot, Russ Smith is more deserving. I may have an emotional attachment to Taquan (see the sappy description I gave him in the pervious piece), but Russ Smith is, simply put, a champion. He’s ascended the ranks from a kid who rarely saw floor time, was on the verge of transferring, to the nationally recognized star of a Championship team. He improved his statistical numbers by leaps and bounds from his sophomore to junior season and even entered the 1,000-point scorers club in just two season’s-worth of serious minutes. With one more year of eligibility, Russ has two Final Fours, a Championship, 1,000-plus points, and a retooled, remodeled Russdiculous identity. More “teams” will be put together in future summers, let me assure you, if Russ Smith has another season like last year’s, this is the lowest he will ever be on them.
Toughest exclusions: Taquan Dean, Ellis Myles