Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Louisville recruits watch Cards lose to Kentucky, eye bright future under Chris Mack
By ADAM ZAGORIALOUISVILLE — About 45 minutes before tip-off of the latest Kentucky-Louisville showdown, Aidan Igiehon and two of his fellow future Cardinals stood talking about 10 rows off the floor of the KFC Yum! Center.
Igiehon, Josh Nickelberry and David Johnson had come to see what their future team looked like. They had come to experience the Cardinals face their most hated rival, the Wildcats, on friendly turf.
“Being here right now for the biggest game of the year, the biggest rivalry, is just like amazing,” the 6-foot-10 Igiehon, nicknamed “The Irish Hulk,” told me before tip-off. “It’s going to give us a great taste of what we have to expect next year and the level that we have to play at next year.”
Igiehon and the future Cardinals will have to play at a higher level than the 2018-19 version of Louisville, which fell to No. 16 Kentucky, 71-58, before a capacity crowd.
With the win, Kentucky coach John Calipari improved to 10-2 against Louisville, and 1-0 against Chris Mack at Louisville.
“I’ve seen a lot of people say they’re 9-2 in the Coach Cal Era,” Igiehon said before the game, referring to Kentucky fans. “And I Tweeted out, ‘Listen, they’re 0-0 in the Chris Mack Era.’ I think he’s a great coach, and I think [if] he gets this win it’s definitely going to be a significant win for him.”
Yes, Mack would’ve been a hero in Louisville had he won in this, his first season at the helm of a program he is rebuilding in the wake of multiple scandals that led to the firing of former coach Rick Pitino and former AD Tom Jurich. (Interim Louisville coach David Padgett attended the game and received a nice cheer from the crowd.)
Halfway across the world on Saturday, Pitino launched his coaching career with Greek club Panathinaikos BC in the EuroLeague, earning his first win.
Ironically, after that game, Pitino, who led both Kentucky and Louisville to NCAA championships, compared the crowd to the ones at Rupp Arena.
“It reminded me of Kentucky, and that’s the highest compliment I can give any crowd,” he told reporters. “Because I’ve always felt in Kentucky basketball is religion, and the fans tonight, they motivated us to play that type of defense. … It’s an honor to coach this team.”
Before Pitino’s third, and final, scandal at Louisville, he led the Cardinals to the Final Four in 2012 and the NCAA championship in 2013. Both banners have since been vacated in the wake of the Brian Bowen pay-for-play scandal.
Here at Louisville, Igiehon and his crew are looking to build their own history under Mack.
The good news for Mack is that Louisville currently has the recruiting edge over Ketnucky for 2019. Their six-man class is ranked No. 5 nationally by 247Sports.com, while Kentucky’s three-man class is at No. 7.
Kentucky-bound wing Kahlil Whitney is playing his senior season in New Jersey at Roselle Catholic, while Igiehon is at nearby Lawrence Woodmere Academy on Long Island.
A year from now, those two will meet in this game, and Igiehon and his crew are looking forward to building a brighter future at Louisville.
“We’re definitely in a group text,” he said. “All six of us we’re really close, so we just keep that bond. And I know it’s going to be even stronger when we start to live with each other.”
So far, Chris Mack is 0-1 against Kentucky as the head coach of Louisville.
Next year and beyond remains to be seen.
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.