Our next profile features alums from an annual contender that is one of the most successful programs in college basketball history. Although they rank in the top 10 in NCAA championships, Final Four appearances, NCAA tournament appearances, and NCAA tournament wins, their players have been more solid than spectacular in the pros. The NBA Louisville Cardinals team has a mix of glue guys who can be expected to compete hard, but will ultimately have a hard time challenging the more talented teams in our tournament.
The lead guard position will be split between Butch Beard and Jim Price. Both players were similar in stature (listed heights of 6’3”) and in career accomplishments, having both made one all-star appearance in their prime. Beard was a more efficient player who played a key role on the 1974-75 world champion Warriors, while Price used his ballhawking skills to make the All-NBA Defensive 2nd team the previous year. Both are solid, but are best suited for complementary roles. Dr. Dunkenstein, Darrell Griffith, is the team’s starting two guard. Griffith was a voluminous and oftentimes spectacular scorer, who averaged 21.0 points per game for the first five years of his career before a foot injury derailed his prime. He also was a competent three-point shooter, shooting a league-leading 36.1 percent (not a misprint – that actually led the league) in the 1983-84 season. He’ll serve as the team’s best scorer, and their best chance of generating halfcourt offense. Derek Smith and Francisco Garcia will spell Griffith for stretches, and play alongside him in three-guard lineups. Smith put up impressive numbers on unimpressive Clippers and Kings teams in the 1980s. He peaked in the 1984-85 campaign, when he averaged 22 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field. Garcia was a deep shooting threat whose strengths are highlighted here; he’ll serve as a valuable cog off the bench.
Junior Bridgeman is another solid wing who will occupy one of the starting forward positions. Although he is best known for being one of the principals in the deal that sent Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers (and recently, for his outrageous net worth), he was a spectacular sixth man for the talented Bucks teams of the late 70s to early 80s. He’ll fit in nicely alongside any of the other wing players, and will serve as the second scoring option for most of the lineups he’ll be a part of. Rodney McCray was a versatile weapon who could toggle between either forward position. He was a productive passer and excellent defender, making all-NBA defensive teams in 1987 and 1988. Off the bench, Jack Coleman was a two-time champion and one-time all-star in the 1950s. He nearly averaged a double-double for his career, and although he won’t be expected to replicate his success on the boards against the bigger, more athletic players in the modern game, he should be able to carve out minutes on this roster.
The starting center, Wes Unseld, is the most accomplished player on the roster. One of the toughest players in league history, Unseld overcame his relatively short stature to average 14 rebounds per game throughout his career. His outlet passing was the stuff of legends, as was his screen-setting, two subtle nuances of the game that affect winning, despite not showing up in the box score. He’s the embodiment of this NBA Louisville Cardinals team: the ultimate glue guy, who, despite his limitations, works to make others better and to help his team succeed. He’s backed up by a trio of big men. Pervis Ellison and Gorgui Dieng can play alongside Unseld against bigger opponents. Although Ellison was derided as a draft bust, he peaked as a 20-10 guy in the 1992 season, and was an effective shot blocker in his time in the league. Dieng is a solid defender who can also protect the rim. He is a solid mid-range shooter as well, who’s extending his range each year, which will help to open up the floor, especially when he gets paired with the space-clogging Unseld. Felton Spencer is the biggest player on the roster, who will play sparingly but can provide six extra fouls if facing a dominant center.
The NBA Louisville Cardinals are solid, scrappy, and physical. What they lack in high-end talent, they should make up for in versatility and effort. While they aren’t expected to advance far in the NBA March Madness Tournament, they’ll be a difficult match up for any opponent in the field.