Scott Padgett Sets Sights on Coaching Rebuild

Nov 16, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Samford Bulldogs head coach Scott Padgett reacts on the sideline against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the first half at the Petersen Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 16, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Samford Bulldogs head coach Scott Padgett reacts on the sideline against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the first half at the Petersen Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

For nearly every basketball fan growing up in the radius of the University of Kentucky, it would be a dream to be able to play for the Wildcats and join the storied tradition that the program has built.

Scott Padgett was not only able to accomplish that, but he would also go on to coach for the university and had an extended NBA career on top of that. Now leading his own team, Padgett has been able to impart his wisdom onto his players on his path to rebuilding a program.

As Padgett grew up in Louisville, just around an hour and a half away from Kentucky’s famed Lexington campus, he was one of the many that knew that he wanted to play basketball for them.

As Padgett tells Nothin’ But Nets, he doesn’t know if he’s faced an easier decision once a scholarship was eventually offered.

“We didn’t have a professional team and there wasn’t a ton of NBA on TV, so my dream was to play at Kentucky. I tell people that I was the easiest recruitment that Rick Pitino ever had; I think accepted the offer on the second phone call. It was one of those things where I didn’t look at the roster, I just wanted to play at Kentucky,” Padgett said.

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While he didn’t play all that much out of the gate, Padgett was looking forward to his sophomore season with a team that was shaping up to be a powerhouse. Some habits that he had fallen into during his freshman year had prevented that opportunity, however.

“My go-to for bad days was always playing basketball, but I wasn’t playing much my freshmen year so when that was taken away I had to find a new thing to do. I went out and partied a lot and got put on academic probation. After a lot of thinking, I knew I had to go back and try to make it work.”

As Padgett’s team won the National Championship, all he could do is sit at home and watch. Rick Pitino had set out some ground rules for him to work his way back onto the team though, which included keeping his GPA above a 3.0, staying out of trouble and making enough money to pay for the Spring semester.

“I worked three jobs to be able to pay off the Spring semester and that was a big wakeup call for me. I realized that I didn’t want to go to this real world; I was working 6-4 in lawn care, 5-9 telemarketing which is the worst job in the world, then on the weekends I was driving a truck delivering sporting goods. After doing that for four months with that routine, I decided to grow up a little and put my full effort into making it work at Kentucky even if it didn’t work out in basketball.”

This was just the reminder that he needed and he returned back to the team the following season. In that first year back, he was named Academic All-Conference and also averaged 10 points per game on a team that reached the final four.

The following year served as full redemption for his up and down career to that point. He was the team’s third leading scorer as they went on to win yet another National Championship. After missing out on his first opportunity just a couple of years prior, the victory couldn’t have been a greater moment.

“After being eliminated in the Final Four in 1996, I remember thinking in 1997 that I may have missed my opportunity to get a championship. With Rick Pitino going to the Celtics and Tubby Smith coming in, I think it helped because a lot of people wrote us off and said we couldn’t do it without him so it put a chip on our shoulder and made us work a little bit harder.”

He continued, “When the ceremony ended after the game, I took the trophy off of the bus and I took it to my room. When I came down to the bus there was a big sigh of relief because they had thought they lost it, but I just wanted to hang onto it a little bit longer. It was a special moment and I have a picture on my desk of me holding it at Rupp Arena.”

Following one more season in which he was the team’s leading scorer and a First-Team All-SEC selection, Padgett was off to the NBA. With such a great last few years of his college career, teams around the league had shown a decent amount of interest in him.

“I had heard that I would go anywhere from 15-28, but there were three teams that I kind of wanted to go to. The odds of two of them were really high because the Jazz and Hawks had three picks, and then the Denver Nuggets, my wife is from Denver and on they had Dan Issel and Louie Dampier on their staff and they were Kentucky legends.”

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  • As draft day arrived, Padgett sat patiently and waited as selections were flying by.

    “As the draft was going along, I don’t go to Denver, I don’t get picked in Utah’s first two picks, Atlanta doesn’t use their three picks on me. Then finally at 28 with their third pick, Utah picked me and I was really excited about being there with Malone, Stockton and Jerry Sloan.”

    He was generally reserved to a bench role with the Jazz, but he was happy to be with a winning organization and be working behind a future Hall of Famer in Karl Malone. He hadn’t been playing all that much, but Malone took him under his wing and that experience played a huge role in the remainder of his career.

    “I would say Karl Malone impacted my career as much as anyone once I reached the NBA. I had a rough first couple of seasons in the NBA and I wasn’t playing much. Going into the summer, Karl Malone took me aside and said he didn’t know what the deal was, but he wanted me to work out with him. I started working out with him and got in great shape and three or four games into my third year I got an opportunity and from that point on I played in every game the rest of my career with the Jazz. I could have easily been out of the league if it weren’t for him.”

    While the Jazz had tons of talent, with Malone, Stockton and some strong role players, they were unable to get over the hump in the Western Conference and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in three of Padgett’s four seasons with the team.

    “When they were in their prime, they were probably missing their one more piece. They had Hornaceck who was a big time shooter, but that one more guy who could just go get a bucket or that one more big that could take on a David Robinson or Shaq was what was missing on those teams.”

    With his deal expired and a big overhaul being undertaken in Utah, Padgett chose to sign with the Portland Trail Blazers, though that wasn’t where he would eventually end up.

    “After my fourth year, John Stockton retired and Karl Malone went to the Lakers so they just decided to start over in Utah. I went to training camp with Portland that year and I was having a great preseason. The night before the last game I was having a conversation with Mo Cheeks at a charity event and it seemed like a done deal that I would make the team. The morning of the game I was starting and by the time the game comes around I didn’t even play.”

    He wound up unexpectedly getting cut, but not all was lost.

    “We were playing the Rockets that night and Jeff Van Gundy asked a question about me and Cheeks told him that I got cut and the next day I was in Houston. I really enjoyed working and playing in Houston and I developed a good relationship with Van Gundy and he’s one of those guys that I lean on for advice, he always shot me straight and I always knew exactly where I stood with him.”

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    While he was only there for two seasons, Padgett was able to learn from Van Gundy, as well as assistant coaches Patrick Ewing, Tom Thibodeau and Steve Clifford. He had signed a three-year deal with the Rockets, but opted-out with the thought that the market was looking good for him.

    Much like his move from Portland to Houston, there were a few barriers but he wound up signing with the New Jersey Nets.

    “I was actually starting in the playoffs with the Rockets against the Mavericks. I opted out of my contract because I felt like I would get at least a little bit more money. I had a verbal agreement to be with the Phoenix Suns and after Brian Grant had been amnestied, the only way that they would get him was by using my deal, so they retracted my offer and offered me a minimum contract. I was upset so I decided to go in another direction. The Nets had an assistant that was in Utah with me and Lawrence Frank reminded me a lot of Van Gundy, so that, and the fact that I got a little better deal, made it a good fit.”

    After playing in New Jersey for one season, followed by one more with both the Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies and a brief stint in Spain, Padgett decided to call it a career at the age of 30.

    “I was the point where I didn’t have a lot of NBA prospects, so I went over to Spain for eight weeks to finish their season in the ACB to see if I could play well and to see if I would enjoy playing overseas. I really loved the time that I was there since I was a big part of the offense, but ultimately I didn’t feel comfortable being out of the country if my daughter needed to see a doctor or something like that. I had offers to go back, but I played eight years longer than I expected and I started for three years at Kentucky so I felt it was the right time to go.”

    His playing career had come to an end, but he knew that he wasn’t going to be able to stay away from the game for long. When John Calipari was hired in as Kentucky’s head coach, he knew that it was the opportunity that he had been waiting for.

    “When I left high school to go to college, I wanted to be a coach. The coach thing made more sense to me than playing in the NBA while I was at Kentucky. When I got done playing I did sports talk radio for two years before I got into coaching. After two years, I was getting the competitive itch. When John Calipari came to Kentucky, I figured there wasn’t a better time to get into it. I had everyone i know call him and he allowed me to be a special assistant on his staff and I tried to learn as much as possible from him.”

    He was only there briefly, but it allowed him to gain invaluable experience and led to him being hired as an assistant at Manhattan to join his former teammate Steve Masiello on the staff.

    After two years as an assistant at Manhattan, Padgett was approached by Martin Newton, the former Director of Basketball Operations at Kentucky who was now the Athletic Director at Samford.

    Within a few hours of visiting the school and talking with Newton about the position, Padgett made the decision to make the move from New York to Alabama to join the Bulldogs coaching staff.

    The team had struggled a bit in his first couple of seasons there and there was some turmoil in the locker room which led to an opportunity that Padgett had been working towards for years.

    “14 guys had transferred in my two years as an assistant here, so they fired my boss and I started making calls to the NBA about a coaching position there, but they brought me on as the interim coach and eventually removed the interim tag. I came in and I told people that we had a long way to go, but by year three we would get in great position.”

    After seeing the team jump up to 14 wins in his second year, Padgett has his sights set on making a big jump in this, his third season. He doesn’t know what will happen in the future, but he hopes to build Samford into a world-class mid-major program.

    “My ultimate goal would be to be the head coach at Kentucky, but that’s a real hard job to get. My goal right now is to get Samford to the top of the conference and get to the NCAA Tournament. We want to be the Butler or Gonzaga of the South. I don’t know if Mark Few planned on being at Gonzaga forever, but that’s been built up into a job that you don’t want to leave. I can be home in about five hours on one road, so it’s a great situation for me and I think there’s some special things ahead.

    The lessons that he’s learned over the years, though there have been some twists and turns, have given Scott Padgett the experience necessary not only to lead, but to excel at the collegiate level as a head coach.

    Quick Questions

    Why #34?
    The crazy thing is that I was #32 growing up and my favorite player of all-time was Jordan, but everyone was 23. My next two were Karl Malone and Magic Johnson. There was a player at Kentucky with 32, so I walked in and #34 was just assigned to me. I had a good run in college, so I stuck with it. There was an average player in Houston that had #34 claimed, so I kept it simple and went to 35.

    Do you feel like you were a bit ahead of your time as a big man who could shoot?
    If I was in today’s game, I’d probably be a better commodity for team’s than I was back then. With teams willing to play small ball, I probably would have had a better career just with how the game is played, not necessarily that I would be a better player. I do get envious a little of the style of play right now seeing smaller guys like Draymond Green at the five.

    What is something that you wish you could tell yourself as a player that you’ve learned as a coach?
    I feel like the things that I’ve learned as a coach, that if I knew them as a player I would have been a whole different player. Just attention to detail, you probably take it for granted when you’re a player how hard the coaches are working. You listen to it, but you probably don’t listen as well as you would like.

    What is your take on the professional eligibility rules?
    I do think there are the rare few with Kobe, LeBron and KG, that are physically and mentally ready to go to the league. There’s so much more than just the game though and the perfect process for me would be to do it how baseball does. You’re either that guy who’s that special, or you spend some time and you learn and you develop and now the NBA gets a more mature player.

    I think it helps both sides because guys are staying around longer to develop chemistry and the NBA is getting a more finished product. You see all these athletes that 5-7 years after they’re done playing they lose all their money, I think guys with three years in college might understand things a bit better and may not be so naive with business deals. I think you’ll have more guys that finish degrees since they have only one year left, too.

    What was your favorite memory of your time in New Jersey?
    I kind of had an up and down year where I had a slow start, great middle and didn’t play much towards the end. We were playing Seattle and we were down and Lawrence went to me on the bench and I came in and had a good game and we came back and won the game. I had a game against Denver where I hit five three’s and assisted on a Jason Kidd three to send the game to overtime, too.

    It was a special team as far as the talent level and we probably should have been better. The most special thing was that my daughter was born. We were playing the Heat in the playoffs and the night before the elimination game my wife called saying she had an ovarian cyst that ruptured and the baby was coming, so I got on the plane and headed back to New Jersey.

    Who is in your all-time starting five?
    PG: Magic Johnson
    SG: Michael Jordan
    SF: Larry Bird
    PF: Karl Malone
    C: Shaquille O’Neal