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David Padgett nervous as he makes debut for embattled Cardinals

College Corruption Louisville Basketball

AP Photo

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- David Padgett insists his nervousness debuting as Louisville’s acting coach is about wins and losses.

It’s not that simple. Padgett has had to deal with much more than just basketball.

He is replacing longtime coach Rick Pitino amid a national federal investigation into corruption in college basketball. The inquiry has cast a shadow over the Cardinals program.

Then there’s the scrutiny the former Pitino assistant faces as a first-time coach of one of the sport’s marquee programs heading into the No. 16 Cardinals’ season opener Sunday against George Mason.

The questions and attention won’t end even if the favored Cardinals beat the Patriots.

A loss, though, could raise more questions as to whether the 32-year-old is the right man to guide Louisville -- even on an interim basis -- as the university navigates its way through another scandal.

Padgett has tried to keep the focus on basketball, and the butterflies indicate he feels the pressure.

“Each day that goes by I get a little bit more nervous,” Padgett said Friday. “Now I’m nervous for the right reasons, and what I mean by that is it’s more win-loss nerves than I’ve-never-done-this-before nervous.

“I just want to make sure guys are ready to go. I know they will be. We’re getting there. I’m sure I’ll be pretty jittery, but as long as our guys are ready to go, that’s all that matters.”

In many respects, Padgett and the Cardinals have been getting ready since Sept. 29.

The 6-foot-11 former Louisville player was named acting coach on that date, three days after Louisville acknowledged it was under investigation. Pitino was placed on unpaid administrative leave earlier that tumultuous week before his firing Oct. 16 after 16 seasons on the Cardinals sideline.

Padgett and the Cardinals insist they have been focused on basketball to avoid being distracted by the investigation and the national attention it has generated. Two exhibition games have included growing pains of transition for the coach and players, and they concede it will be a work in progress.

But Louisville is eager to start the new chapter.

Senior Anas Mahmoud said the team has turned the negative into a positive.

“It’s been a great experience for us,” the 7-0 senior said of the preseason. “A lot of guys have never been here, and they’ve been surrounded by media, surrounded by all the stuff going on.

“Just going out there on the court and doing what you came here for gives you the drive to focus on basketball. We’re back on the right track.”

Mahmoud is among six returnees from a 25-9 squad that reached the NCAA tournament’s second round. Louisville not only must blend eight newcomers and fill an offensive void left by Donovan Mitchell’s departure to the NBA, but also must play the same tight defense Pitino’s teams were known for.

Padgett believes George Mason presents a good initial test for the Cardinals. The Patriots return three starters from a 20-14 team, including junior guards Otis Livingston II (14.3 points per game last season) and Jaire Grayer (11.4 PPG).

Louisville’s hope is that the nerves disappear quickly.

“They’re going to come in here ready to play,” Padgett said of George Mason. “We’re looking forward to it, looking forward to get going and get into that game routine.”