Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Another rebound in Cards

Crum directs Louisville's resurgence

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Woodward grad Eric Johnson says: "Coach Crum has proved again that he's a great coach."
(AP photo)

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        Denny Crum is an avid reader and collector of Louis L'Amour westerns. And whenever college basketball tries to push him out to pasture, the old cowboy responds with another strong Louisville team.

        It is happening again in 1998-99, and three Greater Cincinnati products have helped Louisville rebound from last year's 12-20 disaster. Senior swingman Eric Johnson and junior forward Dion Edward (both from Woodward High) and sophomore guard Jeff McKinley (Simon Kenton) have all contributed as Louisville (10-3) has risen to No. 24 in the weekly Associated Press poll.

        The No. 5-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats ride into the teeth of Cardinal momentum at Louisville Thursday (9:30 p.m., ESPN). Louisville has won four straight games — including its last three on the road — and carries a 6-0 home record into Freedom Hall.

        “Coach Crum has proved again that he's a great coach,” Johnson said Tuesday. “With all he's been through, he hasn't changed. He's still real laid-back, and he makes you a better man for being here.”

        Johnson (6.9 points per game) and Edward (5.9) are U of L's top reserves. McKin ley (1.1 ppg) plays about eight minutes per game.

        Louisville was not expected to be this good, following the worst season in Crum's 28 years at the school. This team is relatively small, has no superstar, and is banned from the NCAA Tournament this year for rules violations. (U of L has appealed, and a decision is expected within a month).

        Kenny Klein, the Louisville sports information director for 16 years, said Crum is not ready to retire to his farm in nearby Jeffersontown, Ky. Crum is signed to coach through the 2001-02 season.

        “You'd hear people say the game has passed him by,” Klein said.“But he is so much of a competitor, and I think his teams mirror that.”

        The 61-year-old Crum retains some of the touch that produced two NCAA titles (1980, '86) and six Final Four appearances. But in this decade, he has been written off several times.

        It first happened during the 1990-91 season, when Louisville went 14-16.

        The following year, the Cardinals were back in the NCAA Tournament.

        It happened again after the 1995-96 season, when Louisville went on NCAA probation after an investigation raised questions concerning former player Samaki Walker's use of two cars.

        The following year, 1996-97, Louisville went to the Elite Eight for the first time in 11 years.

        Then came 1997-98, the losingest season in U of L history. And then more probation, with former assistant coach Scooter McCray accused of violations that led to this year's ban from the NCAA Tournament.

        Surely, the end was near for Crum. Not quite.

        U of L suffered a 19-point loss at Mississippi early this season, and another long year seemed likely. But the Cardinals upset then-No. 3 Kentucky on Dec. 26, and are 8-1 over the past month.

        In Conference USA, Louisville (5-0) leads the Bearcats (4-1) in the league's American Division.

        “I think our team has made a lot of improvement, but I still think we have a long way to go to be a great team,” Crum said this week.

        Crum is using his old formula for success — a balanced, versatile team that plays uptempo and presses defensively. The leading scorers are guard Cameron Murray and forward Nate Johnson, both at 13.5 points per game.

        Regarding UC, Crum said, “I don't feel whether we win or lose will be a real indication of how good we are. I do feel we need to show we can be competitive against that caliber of team.”

        Eric Johnson, at least, might be able to look his old Cincinnati buddies in the face Thursday night. Last season, UC swept its two-game Louisville season series for the first time in 13 years.

        “Being from Cincinnati, I'll definitely go into this game really pumped up,” Johnson said. “If we can't go to the NCAAs we just want to win this conference, and basically UC stands in our way.”


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