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Kelsey working fast to rebuild Louisville's legacy

Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Pat Kelsey is finally able to catch his breath, if only to gauge progress before tackling his next task in rebuilding Louisville's basketball program.

His first two months have been a whirlwind of acquainting himself with program greats, Cardinals fans and especially the transfer portal that has stocked his first roster. Players are now familiarizing themselves with each other and Kelsey’s philosophy in practice.

Contending again is the bottom line, which Kelsey is reminded of frequently.

“You can’t go anywhere without somebody recognizing you, somebody high-fiving you, somebody telling you about their expectations and how to guard the pick and roll,” Kelsey said Thursday in the first of a series of one-of-one interviews with local media.

“I say all the time, I have about 1.2 million assistant coaches out there. Not only is it as passionate of a fan base as there is out there, but it is also as knowledgeable a fan base as there is," he said. "You want to be somewhere where it really stinking matters.”

These fans are hungry, esspecially after two historically bad seasons by a program once considered among the nation’s elite.

The 48-year-old Kelsey was introduced on March 28 to replace Kenny Payne, a former Louisville player who was fired after going 12-52 in his first collegiate coaching job. Payne recently joined Arkansas ’ staff under new coach John Calipari, for whom he worked 10 years as an assistant at rival Kentucky.

Kelsey’s obvious mission is guiding the once-proud Cardinals to relevance in the Atlantic Coast Conference and perhaps nationally.

A NCAA Tournament berth would be great, but Louisville fans hope he can at least make the program watchable again after double-digit losses to just about everybody under his predecessor. With a philosophy centered on academics, basketball and character, he’s confident that Louisville can resume winning like his previous stops.

“The things that we identify and look for is toughness and how competitive basketball IQ can make people around you better,” said Kelsey, who’s 261-122 over 12 years including a stop at Winthrop. He was 27-8 last season at Charleston and 75-27 overall.

Cardinals fans might have to search Google or buy a program this fall to learn about all the newcomers, many of which helped their old schools reach the postseason.

Louisville’s most notable transfer might be guard/forward Terrence Edwards Jr., who helped James Madison reach March Madness with a Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship. Edwards averaged 17.2 points and 3.4 assists and was named conference player of the year.

Fifth-year guard J’Vonne Hadley helped Colorado reach the Sweet 16. Senior guards Reyne Smith and Kobe Rogers and sophomore forward James Scott followed Kelsey from Charleston, which reached the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons.

Many of Kelsey’s assistants from Charleston have also come along, easing a transition that has included discussions with past Louisville greats such as Junior Bridgeman and Luke Hancock, the 2013 Final Four most outstanding player. His staff includes Peyton Siva, the Cardinals' point guard on that championship team whose title was vacated by the NCAA following a sex scandal.

That group has helped Kelsey, his staff and players understand Louisville’s history and tradition. So have the title banners hanging from the rafters of the Cardinals’ 22,000-seat home arena — KFC Yum! Center. And then there are those rare free moments when the magnitude of Kelsey's new job really hits home.

“There’s that moment once a day when all of a sudden I get above the trees and I go, ’Man, I am head coach at the University of Louisville,' with goose bumps and the hair stands up on your arms," Kelsey said. "I can’t wait to be in the Yum! Center with 20,000 of my closest friends.”


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