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OPINION: ...The Cards Are Back?

Image courtesy Louisville Athletics


BY PEYTON BURTON


Thursday's official announcement of Pat Kelsey as the new head coach of the Louisville Cardinals marks a significant turning point for the basketball program. After the disastrous tenure of Kenny Payne and the exhaustive search for a suitable replacement, the decision to bring in Kelsey signifies a new chapter for Louisville Basketball. For those who are not familiar with Pat Kelsey, allow me to give you a rundown on who he is, and why I think he will do great things at the 'Ville.



Before his first head coaching gig, Pat Kelsey was an assistant coach at Wake Forest (2004-2009) and Xavier (2009-2011). During his time as an assistant coach, his teams earned an ACC regular season championship, five NCAA Tournament berths, an NIT berth, and a No. 1 national ranking in two different seasons. Kelsey was an associate coach under former Louisville coach Chris Mack at Xavier, and before he left and started his own head coaching journey, Chris Mack referred to Kelsey as “one of the top assistants in the country”. After the 2012 season, Kelsey was sought after by multiple Mid Major programs before taking the open job at Winthrop.


As head coach at Winthrop, Kelsey resurrected a winning tradition for the Eagles and became one of the winningest coaches in the history of the Big South Conference, ranked 2nd all-time with 110 conference wins. During his nine seasons at Winthrop, no other Big South program had more conference wins or wins overall. The program made four straight Big South Conference tournament title games (2014–17) and the Eagles claimed the 2017, 2020, and 2021 Big South Conference Championships.


Pat Kelsey went to the NCAA Tournament twice while at Winthrop, and had the privilege of coaching players like Keon Johnson, Winthrop’s all time leading scorer, and Xavier Cooks, the all-time blocks and rebound leader for the Eagles. After nine successful seasons, Pat Kelsey sought a change in scenery, becoming the new head coach of the Charleston Cougars in 2021.


Kelsey's up-tempo style of play and emphasis on tough defense made Charleston a force to be reckoned with in the CAA. He brought a winning mentality to the program and instilled a sense of belief in his players that they could compete with anyone.


His ability to recruit and develop talent with the Cougars was evident, as Charleston's roster was filled with skilled players who bought into his system. Kelsey's attention to detail and dedication to his players helped them reach their full potential and succeed on the court. His tenure at Charleston was a short one, but let’s not forget he led Charleston to back to back NCAA tournament appearances in his last two seasons. 


With his resume out of the way, let me give you my reasoning on why I believe the Louisville Basketball team is in good hands. As mentioned before, Pat Kelsey's attention to detail and will to win do not go unnoticed. He has succeeded everywhere he's been, whether as an assistant coach or leading his own program; the man simply knows how to win. Pat Kelsey's energy is unmatched.


There's a term people use when someone exudes an aura that commands attention. While I won't repeat it here, from now on, I'm using "Big Kelsey Energy". If you've watched Pat Kelsey coach, you'll realize that his teams not only play hard, but are also incredibly entertaining to watch—especially for Louisville fans. His teams employ a fast-paced style that resonates with many, and they consistently rack up points, ranking in the top 50 in tempo every year. 




The main question Cards fans now have is simple; "Can he recruit at this level?"


Let me shed some light on this. During his tenure at Wake Forest, he was the lead recruiter and played a significant role in attracting former NBA player Jeff Teague to the program. Additionally, being from Cincinnati, Pat Kelsey is well-versed in recruiting in this area.


More importantly, recruiting in today's college basketball landscape is relatively straightforward. With the advent of NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) deals, recruiting at a powerhouse like Louisville, which boasts millions in NIL revenue, should be a breeze for Pat Kelsey. The only concern might be whether he can handle the pressure of coaching at Louisville. 


That question will be answered soon enough, as he is joining a program built on winning, with expectations of competing for national championships and making deep runs in the NCAA tournament. The Pat Kelsey era begins now, and with the resources available at Louisville, coupled with the dedication and work ethic of Pat Kelsey, there's zero doubt in my mind that Louisville Basketball is back. The college basketball world is now on notice; whether people like it or not, the Cards are back.


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