When it’s early May and the horses are at Churchill Downs preparing for the Kentucky Derby, most of the news is at the back of the historic racetrack. Such was the case Thursday morning when Louisville assistant coaches Nolan Smith and Danny Manning got in on the action and spent time discussing the new direction of Cardinal basketball.
The trip to Churchill Downs was a first for the two UdeL assistants. The two toured a few barns and watched a few workouts during their visit, with Manny describing the experience as “an eye opener.”
Of course, wherever coaches go, questions about the future of the program follow. Just as they did when they were introduced as members of Kenny Payne’s first UofL staff, Nolan Smith and Danny Manning echoed their enthusiasm for some of what the former Cardinal player turned head coach has planned for the program rich in traditions.
“We’re thrilled to be here,” Smith said. “We’re thrilled to be here with Coach Kenny Payne and getting things done. This city deserves the best. The best basketball, the best coaching staff and that’s what we’re here to bring them.
Manning relayed hopes of bringing the program back up to par with expectations once again.
“For us to be part of KP’s first staff at a school where he played, where he won a championship, we just feel very lucky and look forward to many, many great days in the Yum! Center and compete in the ACC, and move from there to the NCAA Tournament,” Manning said.
Reaction to Louisville’s new coaching staff, which also includes Josh Jamieson, has been positive from inside the coaching industry and, of course, Card Nation.
“In the coaching fraternity, there’s a lot of congratulations and good wishes outside of the ACC folks,” Manning said with a laugh. “Just walking around downtown, Fourth Street Live, just the energy, the excitement that everyone has for the city program, it’s amazing. I mean, I tell all my friends that I visit regularly that it’s the support here that is second to none. And that’s one of the many reasons why it makes it so special.
Excitement for Louisville basketball has grown rapidly since Kenny Payne was introduced as head coach and with each new step he climbs to another higher level. For fans following the program, the coaching hires, recent additions, and potential upcoming signings of highly rated prospects have once again energized the fan base.
“Just incredible energy, incredible energy,” Smith said. “Really just a lot of love from opposing coaches, opposing supporters, knowing what the cardinal bird means to us as City staff and they know the cardinal bird is a special logo and they know that we’re going to wear it proud. They know we’re going to bring such energy and passion to the cardinal bird, to the city. I mean, it’s been this great energy and feedback from the entire basketball community- ball.
The decision to join Kenny Payne’s team didn’t take long for either Smith or Manning.
“Kenny Payne, basketball aside, is one of the finest human beings you’ll ever meet,” Smith said. “I’m not saying just because I’ve known in my whole life, everyone says that. For me, having known him all my life, it was a very easy decision to come in and be under him and work for him. He’s a great man to work for. A man of integrity, a man of love and he loves his players.”
The opportunity to follow Payne’s lead in helping players reach their full potential and succeed in life, on and off the pitch, facilitated Manning’s decision to join the coaching staff.
“To me, it’s very similar in that sense,” Manning said. “Whatever your job, you spend a lot of time with your colleagues. Whenever you can be with a co-worker that you like, that you love, it makes work that much more enjoyable. And for us, following KP’s example and wanting to make sure that we put our arms around our young people, help them grow on their journey, share our experiences with them to help them along their journey is something we we’re all thrilled to be a part of. That’s what it’s all about, giving back. Many people have helped us on our journeys, on our paths, and now we are moving forward. We want to help all of our young people succeed in any endeavor in life.