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BOZICH | Nolan Smith’s return to Louisville basketball completes his father Derek’s dream | Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Derek Smith started his training occupation in 1994 with the Washington Bullets. He labored for former Louisville all-American Wes Unseld, starting the grind in an unforgiving occupation that normally knocks maximum males down.

American University talked to Smith about operating for its program. Others within the basketball international fastened their eyes on Smith, too. They known and revered Derek’s choice, interest and talent to resolve issues.

But for Derek Smith, one task flashed atop his occupation success listing: a training alternative at his alma mater, the University of Louisville.

“That’s where Derek wanted to be,” stated Smith’s widow, Monica. “Louisville was definitely at the very top of his list.”

On Monday morning, a number of hours sooner than he was once offered as the primary assistant at the personnel Kenny Payne is assembling for the Louisville males’s basketball program, Nolan Smith and his spouse, Cheyna, drove to Cave Hill Cemetery, the place Derek Smith has been buried since August 1996.

Nolan wanted a minute to inform his father that he completed the purpose Derek shared with shut pals.

“I can’t even tell you how blessed and how much joy the Smith family feels today,” Monica Smith stated in regards to the alternative offered to her son.

“I’ve always believed that Derek has used his hands to look out for us and put in these positions to keep our family safe and whole.”

There have no longer been many tales at U of L extra inspiring than this one. Payne turns into this system’s first full-time Black males’s head basketball trainer and hires the son of a Cardinal legend whose existence purpose was once to train at his alma mater.

“As I talked about in (his introductory) press conference, the criteria I was looking for, the whole time I knew it was him,” Payne stated.

“Love of young people, high character, dedicated to craft, helping kids reach their dreams. All of that is him.

“And the big plus is that he’s a family member. I know that someone’s looking down on us today smiling. That’s his father, who taught me everything I know and to have (Nolan) in this program. Derek’s blood and spirit is back in Nolan.”

Family and love had been two phrases that Payne and Nolan Smith used greater than some other whilst sharing their imaginative and prescient about how they plan to go back Cardinal basketball to the dynamic luck of the Nineteen Eighties when Derek Smith and Payne performed for groups that received the 1980 and 1986 nationwide titles.

Derek Smith made himself to be had to be Payne’s giant brother after Payne dedicated to U of L in 1985. Smith grew up in Hogansville, Georgia, a the city of not up to 4,000 other folks within the west central a part of the state. Payne arrived from Laurel, Mississippi, a comparative city of 17,000 close to the Alabama border, more or less 340 miles from Hogansville.

“Derek and Kenny had so much in common in how they grew up,” Monica stated. “Kenny would come over to the house. They worked out together. Sometimes, when we went out, it would be the three of us. Kenny became family.”

That’s why there was once by no means a lot doubt in regards to the first trainer Payne would recruit when he after all were given his head training alternative.

It could be Derek’s precocious son, Nolan, who Payne as soon as held as an toddler when Nolan was once born in Louisville in 1988.

After Derek Smith’s tragic loss of life from a center assault in 1996 whilst on a cruise when he was once handiest 34, Payne, Jerry Eaves, Scooter McCray, Roger Burkman, Wade Houston and different former Cardinals from that technology had been to be had for Nolan, his sister, Sydney and Monica. As Derek Smith mentored Payne, Payne mentored Nolan.

Nolan thrived — and all the time strove to honor his father. who died when Nolan was once 8. When Nolan determined to get a tattoo of his father on his proper bicep, he stated his mom’s handiest request was once, “it better look like my husband.”

Nolan performed his method directly to the 2007 McDonald’s all-American workforce with Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon. He began at level guard when Duke received the nationwide championship in 2010. He labored his method into an assistant training place for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, serving to the Blue Devils compile the country’s No. 1 recruiting elegance this 12 months.

But even at Duke, Smith all the time had Cardinal equipment. He lived right here till he was once just about 6, capturing baskets at Crawford Gym.

Nolan stated Payne despatched him a textual content message no longer lengthy after Smith watched Payne’s introductory press convention on his telephone. Smith was once using a bus to a Duke NCAA Tournament follow in Greenville, South Carolina on March 18.

“Are you ready?” Payne requested.

“I will be,” Smith answered.

Smith is able. The whole circle of relatives is. Smith and his spouse will settle in with their two small children. Monica stated she deliberate to transport again to Louisville, her place of origin, by way of June. Expect Sydney to practice from North Carolina.

What would Derek Smith say about these days?

“He’d say, ‘You’re a chip off the old block,'” Nolan said. “That was one of his things. I know he’d be extremely proud of me.

“He always said he eventually wanted to be a coach back here at Louisville, so to be sitting here I’m living my life through him like I’ve always tried to do. It’s very, very special and I’m so honored and proud to be here.

“It’s really hard to explain the emotions I’ve felt since landing this morning. I’ve had chills walking through the airport … to have this Card (logo) on my chest means the world to me. To be a part of this is bigger than me.

“This program has always meant the world to me. To represent this great university, this program right alongside this guy (Payne) right here, I’m so excited to get to work.”

Smith has already gotten to paintings. While Payne labored a couple of AAU tournaments in Indianapolis final weekend, Smith was once in Orlando, looking for gamers for the following 3 Louisville recruiting categories.

He stated Coach Ok congratulated him at the transfer and known as it a wise trade resolution. He stated he’ll no longer give an inch to Duke or some other program in pursuit of long term Cardinals.

And he stated the Payne/Smith connection was once the controversy of the Nike EYBL AAU match.

“I felt a lot of fear of opposing schools,” Nolan Smith stated.

“I’m serious. It felt great. It felt great.

“A lot of people, like Coach Payne said, were saying, ‘Congratulations and we’re happy for you. You and KP are going to kill it.’

“But then just walking past kids, you hear them go, ‘Louisville!’ There’s just something about it that when Kenny Payne was hired and then I was hired, it just felt a different feeling of this logo. This weekend, I really felt that.”

People across the Louisville basketball program are feeling it, too.

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