Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Who's Next for Louisville basketball -- Goodbye John Asher -- TUESDAY CARDINAL COUPLE
CARDS WBB IN THE RUNNING FOR SEVERAL 2019 PROSPECTS
So, on one of those rare days here in late August where there are no UofL women's athletics events to attend, watch or cover...let's turn to one of the sports on campus that brings a goodly share of readers to Cardinal Couple and peaks Cardinal fans interest. Women's basketball.
First off, yes, the 2018-19 team is on campus, going through practice a few times a week under NCAA guidelines, of course, with Jeff Walz, his associates and assistants and the Cardinal training staff. The 2018 freshmen are on campus and working to gel with the returning players from 2017-18.
As it is, though, with some programs, the Louisville fan base is akin to a toddler who has weathered a Christmas morning and later wants to know: What's next?
That "next" would be the 2019 recruiting class. Some of the answers are already in place. The Cards WBB program will be bringing in several good players. Nyah Green, a 6'0" guard (or wing...we feel she can play either) is in the Cardinal camp. So is Ramani Parker, a 6'4" post.
So, how many more does UofL WBB want to bring in? That would be the question of the day. Although we're pretty sure here at CARDINAL COUPLE that Coach Walz and the staff probably have a "number" in mind...you never really know until the final determining factor of them making the commit and then showing up on campus.
Like some of you, we've hear some names and have done a bit of speculation. We have no "inside pipeline" to the thoughts and strategies of Walz...so we'll throw a few names out there and see what happens down the road. Mind you, again, this is just speculation on our part.
Today, I'll toss out five names that have shown interest in the Cards for 2019. I'm definitely "flying on instruments" here but, here goes. I know I'm leaving a few out.
AIJAH BLACKWELL, who played for Walz and USA Basketball in Mexico City, has narrowed her potential places to further her student-athlete status to six schools. As it is with many of these, they are in no particular order. Louisville, Ohio St., Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi St. and St. Louis are who she's considering. This 6'0" guard has it all and would be a welcome addition to the Cardinal roster.
MAORI DAVENPORT. She's another player who went with USA Basketball to Mexico City and she was named to the All-Tournament team. She's named Louisville, Mississippi St., Georgia, Florida and Rutgers. Depending on what you read and who said it, there are conflicting reports on if any of these are in the lead for her enrollment. At 6'4" she'd be a great "add" to any of the schools listed above.
JORDAN HORSTON. A 6'1" guard out of Columbus, OH who is ranked in the top three at her position...she recently agreed to visit Tennessee for a weekend. Still on her list, at last glance, were Louisville, Tennessee, UConn, North Carolina, Ohio St., South Carolina and UCLA. Any time you have a shot at one of the top three at a position, that's a good thing, right? She's also had official visits to UCLA. UConn, South Carolina and North Carolina. She's had one unofficial visit to Louisville and plans another. She likes Jeff Walz and the staff. We'll see...
JADA BOYD. She was the Virginia Player of the Year and a force on the court at 6'2". She has her list down to four schools. Louisville, Maryland, NC St., and West Virginia. She says: " I really like coach Walz a lot and my mother is fond of him and his coaching style." Jada plans official visits to all four schools. She's developed into a top target for the Cards in 2019 and played well here in the NIKE EYBL tournament here in Louisville this summer.
As a junior, she average 35 points a game and 13 rebounds, with eight blocks per game.
RICKEA JACKSON. A 6'2" wing that recently visited Tennessee along with Horston and Zia Cooke (who has also shown UofL interest). Jackson made an unofficial visit to Louisville back in December and is another in the top three according to ESPN at her position. Last we heard, there are still seven or eight schools on her list. She's a wing that runs the court extremely well, makes opponents pay with a variety of scoring options and can definitely clear the glass.
As mentioned above, we have NO idea how accurate or relevant this list is, or how it will be in the next few months...but these are a few players that caught ol' Paulie's eye. Any or all would be a great addition to the Louisville roster. The Cards graduate four after the 2018-19 season, so there will be ample opportunities and roster sports open.
Time will tell.
A FAREWELL TO JOHN ASHER
John Asher and I were the same age. He went to college at WKU with CARDINAL COUPLE Co-Founder and my wife Sonja. I saw John a lot over the past 20-something years. He faithfully addressed The Sportsmen's Supper Club each March or April with an annual Derby preview and I was usually responsible for lining him up for the engagement. He always said "Yes" and always told me how much he enjoyed addressing our group.
He actually gave us the winner this year as well, in Justify, when he delivered his picks.
I will miss him. John was a huge part of Churchill to me, along with the Twin Spires, Scotty Harris and that long stretch
I'll share a couple of Asher stories in his memory.
-- Last Saturday, I went to Churchill after THE CARDINAL COUPLE RADIO HOUR broadcast. A combination of reasons...to be with some people who knew recently-departed Scott Harris as well as I did...and to watch an important stakes race at Saratoga (The Travers). John used to tease about his inability to pick a Derby winner, but he nailed his 2018 pick.
As I pulled into the lot, I saw John in the row in front of me walking to his car. I went over to talk to him. He was leaving after taking care of a few details at the track (he was the vice-president of racing communications at Churchill Downs) and going home to prepare for a vacation in Florida with his family. He said he was ready for some fun and rest with them. We talked about the Travers, he didn't give me a pick, but smiled and nodded when I mentioned CATHOLIC BOY, who won the race at 7-1 odds. John was a "Catholic boy" himself, attending Holy Spirit parish here in Louisville.
I also teased him about former WKU WBB Coach Michelle Clark-Heard leaving the 'Toppers' to go to Cincinnati. John was a huge WKU fan but also knew a lot about UofL WBB. John had a photographic memory. He recalled Clark's playing days at WKU, her time at Louisville and then also reminded me that Greg Collins, the new coach at WKU, was another former UofL assistant and John thought he'd be a great head coach for the Toppers. He pointed out that Collins basically held the UofL program together after Martin Clapp left and before Tom Collen accepted the job.
I could tell he was in a hurry, so I wished him a "happy vacation" and walked away. With the sun shining down on him, that "always-big-glad-to-see-you-grin" on his face...two regular guys just exchanging a few pleasantries...that's the way I'll remember my last encounter with John. Doing what he loved and loved what he was doing.
Another John-related story:
-- It was Thursday of Kentucky Derby week this year. "Thurby", as it's called...if you will, and I awoke that morning and discovered I was missing my cell phone. I thought back to Wednesday. I had been at the track. I remembered using one of the charging plugs in the Gold Room at Churchill Downs to re-charge it. I checked the car, it wasn't there, so I told Sonja I must have left it plugged-in at Churchill and I was going to go see if it was still there. Fortunately, David Watson had agreed to do the Thursday Cardinal Couple column for me.
Getting into Churchill on Derby Week Thursday...without tickets, proper passes or before they open...beginning with parking in the Longfield Lot, is akin to climbing Mt. Everest in a "speedo". My gift-of-gab, out-dated WCHQ media pass and tale of woe got me by parking lot guarders, gate attendants and security folks and I went into an almost deserted Gold Room quite early on that Thursday morning.
The phone was no longer plugged in where I had left it. One of the hosts of the room, no other than Scotty Harris, who was already on-duty, suggested I try lost-and-found over in the administration building...so off I went. As I walked over, back-tracking to get around locked gates, I turned a corner and there was John Asher, getting in a little morning cardio-walk.
We smiled at each other and started to talk. I explained my plight. He wished me the best of luck in the search and told me to keep positive thoughts. He told me that they had a good group of people there at Churchill and it would most likely turn up somewhere. I told him that it was good to see him that morning. I went down the steps in front of me, he continued up.
After I had a lengthy wait, lost-and-found opened but no one had turned in my phone. Dismayed, I left. The attendant said she'd call my home phone if it showed up. I asked her to call the Gold Room, since I planned on being there.
I went back to the Gold Room to see if I could get a coffee. As I entered, my bartender from the day before was coming on shift and she asked me if "I was missing anything?". The bartenders have a cabinet behind the bar where they store lost or forgotten items...which I didn't know about. My phone, with charger, waited for me on one of the shelves in the cabinet.
Goodbye, John. Churchill won't be the same without you. I hope you and Scotty Harris get together up at that big race track in the sky and get some successful handicapping done.