It became official on Thursday that Ralph Willard will be coming back to UofL to join Rick Pitino’s staff as an assistant coach. Willard was on staff at Louisville from 2009-2011 and has also coached with Rick Pitino with the New York Knicks (1987-89) and the University of Kentucky (1989-90). He has coached the game of basketball for 39 years. I don’t need to go into his records at all of his stops. The man has proven he knows the game of basketball.
What is interesting about this hire is some of the reaction it has gotten. I certainly didn’t think I would need to defend this hire, but here we go. Here are some quotes I saw about Willard while searching the interwebs.
-“He just sat there.” I assume talking about the last time he coached here.
-“And collected a fat paycheck. I’ll be Rick’s buddy for less.”
-“If Ralph Willard doesn’t sign a top 40 player by December, then he gots to go.”
Not sure where to begin here, so I will just roll with whatever comes to mind. About him “just sitting there,” is it written somewhere that your assistant coaches must be standing and yelling at all times? Or could it possibly benefit you to have a calming influence on the bench that has been there and done that and doesn’t get rattled by any situation?
So Willard has to sign a top 40 player now? This is clearly someone who is not paying attention and doesn’t know basketball enough to know why Willard was brought in. Ralph Willard is not coming to UofL to be a recruiter. For those out there that say “Oh well Pitino should have brought in a younger guy who is going to bust his butt out there on the recruiting trail! Come on!” I say this to you: HE DID THAT LAST YEAR. MEET KENNY JOHNSON!
Kenny Johnson is the big-time recruiter on this staff. He is responsible for bringing in Donovan Mitchell, Trey Lewis, Damion Lee, and Raymond Spalding. He is also the key recruiter on a couple of big-time guys for 2016.
To go further on that point, do you realize how many spots there are to even fill in the next couple of seasons with recruiting? Not many. Barring any transfers, because you can’t predict those, the Cards will lose Trey Lewis and Damion Lee after this season. Then next season, Mangok Mathiang is the only senior. So there aren’t a whole lot of scholarships to go around that you need another big recruiter coming in. You need someone established that can coach these guys.
So what about after this year and/or next year when recruiting needs to pick up? Well honestly, Willard may be moved on by then. This could very well be a move that is only for a season or two. And in that season or two, he will benefit the program in a big way. Pitino said yesterday that he called Willard before last season about coming back, and Willard told him that he needed to hire a recruiter and to go after Kenny Johnson. He knew that the program needed something else. Now he sees that he can be a good fit for what is in place. The man is certainly not selfish, he was looking out for the good of Rick Pitino and the UofL program.
Rick Pitino had this to say yesterday about Willard. “I’ve asked Ralph Willard to come back for next year as we have a totally new basketball team,” said Pitino. “I couldn’t afford any other changes, including potentially moving David Padgett up this year because he is invaluable as our director of basketball operations. I needed someone who knows the University of Louisville and knows our program. Ralph is a great basketball mind, a great evaluator of talent and will be tremendous working with our new team. I’m really excited to welcome him back.”
Willard told Pitino to bring in Russ Smith. He also told him to not recruit two particular players, and Pitino said those two guys did not end up working out (whoever they are and wherever they were, I don’t know).
One last reason to support this hire…are you REALLY still going to question Rick Pitino when it comes to basketball decisions? Some people will never learn.
Go Cards…Go Krogering!