Louisville is located barely below the Mason-Dixon Line, but its citizens drawl in the Deep South manner of Scarlett and Rhett. Their talk is soft around the edges, with none of the nasal sound from the surrounding hills that conjures images of cars jacked up on cement blocks in the front yard. The natives rhyme the name of their city: "Lull-vull." Most of the rest of the country says, "Louie-ville," and when Denny Crum arrived three years ago, he called it "Lewis-ville."
That immediately marked Crum as a foreigner of the most deplorable sort, not necessarily a good thing to be in proud and provincial Louisville. But it turned out to be a pardonable transgression because Lull-vullers quickly found out that Crum knew a lot about two beloved local traditions, basketball and winning.
In Crum's first two years at the University of Louisville, he coached the Cardinals to 49 victories. Last season they won 21, despite playing with a front line of Mickey Rooneys. No one was over 6'5". Now bigger and deeper, they are the front-runners for the NCAA championship next March.
And running is Crum's game. His players need steel-belted radial sneakers the way they ignore speed limits. Their best ploy could be called, "Everybody Go Deep," with sophomore Wesley Cox taking the ball out of bounds and throwing it the length of the court to a streaking teammate. If that doesn't work, Louisville runs its offense. "We have one set play," says Guard Terry Howard.
Crum is 37 years old, and this is his first head coaching job after a long stint as an assistant to UCLA's John Wooden. Obviously, he is off to a good start. During his brief tenure at Louisville he has concentrated on amassing talent and this year the Cardinals have all they need. Nine of the first 10 players of a year ago are returning. Two others, Guard Phillip Bond and 6'9" senior Center Bill Bunton, who missed last season because of illness and injured grades respectively, again are healthy. Louisville has added a 6'10" freshman center named Ricky Gallon who, Crum claims, is the best thing to come out of Florida since the orange. "I can play 10 different guys with the first unit," he says. "We have more flexibility than ever before."
Last year's Cardinals had a big problem at center—they did not have one. Crum used Cox, his most gifted player, but at 6'5" even he was giving away too much height. Louisville had to struggle to get any rebound that did not first bounce on the floor. Bunton's return to the middle will allow Cox to move outside. Wesley averaged 14 points per game and eight rebounds playing out of position and was considered by some, not all of them citizens of Lull-vull, the best freshman in the country. As a forward, he should be merely devastating.
As valuable as Bunton is apt to be this season, he may be challenged for his starting job before March rolls around. Gallon is only 17 years old and needs experience, but he is 6'10" and can jump higher than anyone on the team.
Even with Cox and the two centers, Allen Murphy and Junior Bridgeman remain the nucleus of the team. Three years ago, when the University of Kentucky was getting all of the publicity for its "great" freshman team, Crum scoffed and said he would not trade Murphy or Bridgeman for any of the UK players. Those frosh are all seniors now, and Kentucky has another great team, but it's in Louisville, not Lexington.
Bridgeman was named Player of the Year in the Missouri Valley Conference last season. His roommate, Murphy, led the Cardinals in scoring, hitting 61% of his shots in league games, and he is the team's best defensive player.