Purdue’s Matt Painter tells David Padgett to ’embrace’ his opportunity

Louisville interim men's basketball coach David Padgett is shown during pregame of a recent game in Louisville. (By The Associated Press)
Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter directs his players as they played Louisville in the first half of a recent game in West Lafayette. (By The Associated Press)
Louisville interim men's basketball coach David Padgett reacts to an officials call during the second half of a recent game in Louisville. (By The Associated Press)
Louisville forward Ray Spalding (13) shoots over Purdue forward Matt Haarms (32) in the first half of a recent game in West Lafayette. (By The Associated Press)

WEST LAFAYETTE – The tasks this season for interim Louisville men’s basketball coach David Padgett won’t be easy, especially as he faces two of the most challenging frontcourts in college basketball in consecutive games this week. However, in the opinion of one opposing coach, Padgett’s job is easier than some, because fate was kind enough to place him in a favorable professional position.

The Cardinals (4-1) will battle Seton Hall Sunday at 4 p.m. (ESPN2) after losing to Purdue at Mackey Arena earlier this week.

“He’s in a tough spot,” veteran Purdue coach Matt Painter said after the Boilermaker win over the Cardinals. “But also, (he should) embrace it and have fun with it.”

Painter is speaking from experience, because like Padgett, he was unexpectedly thrown into a much-publicized role, and he didn’t thrive – at least initially.

The 32-year-old Padgett was named as the interim coach at Louisville in October when Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino was shockingly fired in the midst of an FBI investigation.

He was not only given the role of leading one of the nation’s most renowned basketball programs – overnight – but he also had to hire an entirely new coaching staff weeks after practices had officially started across the nation.

“It’s a great challenge for him,” Painter said. “But anytime you have a challenge as a coach AND great players, I like those challenges.”

Painter wasn’t so enamored with his initial situation at Purdue, as he compared his and Padgett’s careers.

Painter was a 33-year-old head coach at Southern Illinois when he was presented the opportunity to return to his alma mater and serve as an associate head coach for one year as the “head coach in waiting” under Boiler legend Gene Keady.

“They called and asked me to be the head coach in waiting,” Painter chuckled. “Who had even heard of that?”

What Painter discovered was a basketball mess instead of the bonanza in which Padgett has landed.

Purdue struggled to a seven-win season with Painter as an assistant, and only improved to nine wins in his first season as the head coach.

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He referred to it as “the worst two-year run in the history of Purdue basketball,” however, that was an exaggeration. It was simply “the worst two-year run” in 50 years of Purdue basketball.

“The one thing that (Padgett) has is players,” Painter said. “Embrace that and enjoy that, because it’s fun.”

Indeed, Pitino didn’t leave the cupboard bare for the young coach; who three seasons ago was a struggling (and eventually fired) assistant coach at IUPUI.

Louisville has advanced to four consecutive Sweet 16s in the NCAA Tournament, as well as 5 of the last 10 Elite Eights. The talent level is such that the Cardinals have produced seven NBA Draft picks in the past five years.

“It is fun coaching when you’ve got a bunch of guys,” Painter said. “It’s no fun if you’ve got a bunch of guys that can’t dribble around and are running into each other. It’s hard.”

Painter was impressed with the Cardinals, who battled the experienced Boilermakers until the final minutes.

I think he’s done a good job,” Painter said. “I think he’s done a really good job.”

The Louisville administration has been non-committal toward Padgett until after this season, and Painter said that is fine, because regardless of how this six-month interview turns out for Padgett, it is “an opportunity” to build on the remainder of his career.

“Win a bunch of games,” Painter said of his advice to Padgett prior to the game, “because the one thing that will happen, if he can get the (Louisville) job, great. But if he can’t, people will look at him and his maturity, the polish, the professionalism and his ability to coach. He is also auditioning for some place else, also. And that is cool. That is great.”

“You take the positive of the opportunity and do what you do.”

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