Louisville Cardinals All-Decade Basketball Team
The Gregorian Calendar says this shouldn't be done—not until next year—but pop culture disagrees, and that seems like a decent enough barometer when deciding the best time to assemble an All-Decade team for the Louisville Cardinals.
In case you forgot:
The 2000s started rough in Louisville as the Denny Crum era came to an inglorious end. Then, Athletics Director Tom Jurich brought in some guy named Rick Pitino, and with him the Cardinals lost their reputation as a 21st Century doormat.
Pitino immediately went with his signature pressure defense in his return to college basketball as well as the Commonwealth of Kentucky—and it took him just two seasons to get Louisville back to the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals have missed the Big Dance only once since the 2003 season—in 2006—a year after Pitino's first Final Four appearance at Louisville.
To finish the 2008-2009 season, Pitino sent off would-be NBA Draft lottery picks Terrence Williams and Earl Clark in style. The Cardinals took the Big East Conference regular-season crown, won the Big East Tournament for the first time, and claimed the NCAA Tournament's overall No. 1 seed en route to a second straight Elite Eight appearance.
Now, for the list:
Honorable Mentions: Larry O'Bannon, Taquan Dean
Larry O'Bannon, a small forward out of Louisville's Male High School, waited to make his mark on Cardinals basketball history. By taking a spot as a sharp-shooting asset on the 2005 Final Four team, he did just that.
It took O'Bannon all four years to reach his true peak, but by his junior season, he was a consistent double figures scorer. O'Bannon averaged 15.3 points in his senior season and headed overseas to play in Italy, Greece, and Israel—to name a few.
Taquan Dean came in alongside future legend Francisco Garcia. The two were friends and roommates, and it showed through on the floor.
Dean, like O'Bannon, was known less for his ball handling and more for shooting—except for his final season at Louisville, when Dean took over at the point guard spot on a depleted roster.
Following Louisville's Final Four run, Dean was expected to be taken in the NBA draft. He stayed for his senior season at Louisville and was pestered by an ankle injury that prevented NBA teams from taking a chance on him. Dean has played in Italy, Russia, and Spain, and made the Phoenix Suns' Summer League team in 2008.
PG: Terrence Williams
Terrence Williams had the athleticism to play anywhere on the court—even take a spot at point-forward, as he sometimes did throughout his senior season at Louisville.
A four-year mainstay in the Cardinals' starting lineup, Williams was notorious for taking to heart the messages about both basketball and life of his mentor and head coach, Rick Pitino. Through that process, Williams grew from averaging 8.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game as a freshman to score 12.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and five assists per game as a senior.
Williams came in with an attitude and a knack for dunking. He left with the ability to distribute the ball and a jumpshot—and as the 11th pick in last year's NBA draft.
SG: Reece Gaines
Reece Gaines was the first true star to begin in Denny Crum's system and finish with Rick Pitino. In 2003, Gaines was the first Cardinal to be drafted in six years when he went with the 15th pick in the first round of the NBA Draft to the Orlando Magic.
Gaines preceded his journeyman NBA career by averaging double figures in scoring for three seasons, peaking at 21.0 points per game in his junior year. His career field goal percentage was 45.2 percent and three-point percentage 38.2 percent.
Gaines played a season for the Magic, Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks before heading overseas to play in Italy. Gaines was most recently selected as a part of the 2009 NBDL draft.
SF: Francisco Garcia
Louisville launched Francisco Garcia to a better place, and with him, went his family.
Garcia was selected in the first round of the 2005 draft by the Sacramento Kings (where he still plays) after a fabled three-year career in a Cardinals uniform. An unexpected college superstar, Garcia carried a lanky frame and a serious demeanor.
His goal was to rescue his mother from the slums of New York City, where his brother was shot and killed while Garcia was away in Louisville. By averaging 15.7 points in 38 minutes a game his junior season, Garcia fueled the Cardinals' run to the Final Four.
PF: Earl Clark
Earl Clark had NBA written across his forehead from Day One with the Cardinals.
“E5,” as he was known in Louisville, could shoot from outside, towering over defenders with 6-foot-9 height. He could post up in the paint—225 pounds worth. Clark even mastered the mid-range jumper by his junior season—and final season—at Louisville, before he was drafted 14th by the Phoenix Suns.
Clark's career numbers—10.6 points and seven rebounds per game—don't blow anyone away. But as Rick Pitino will attest to, Clark's potential is through the roof.
C: David Padgett
David Padgett was a coach's son, and on a team that didn't always take quickly to Rick Pitino's complex defenses, Padgett was the vocal leader. He directed traffic, took Pitino's voice to the floor with him, and always managed to hit his signature driving hook shot despite worrying about everyone else on the court.
Bothered by multiple knee injuries while at Louisville, Padgett fought through the pain to play. Although he never averaged more than 26.8 minutes per game, he was always good for double figures in scoring when his knees agreed.