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Scott Padgett is creating culture out of chaos at Samford

How Padgett has used his experiences as a player to help manage adversity and build culture at Samford.

NCAA Basketball: Samford at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Scott Padgett was prepared for it, although he didn’t know it yet.

The Samford coach has been asked to deal with a lot after having the interim tag removed in 2014. There was never a time to settle in to the job which the 42-year old now occupies, but the lessons he learned at a college basketball powerhouse have been front and center.

During his time starring for Kentucky, folks might remember Padgett most vividly for what he was able to do from his sophomore to senior seasons when the Wildcats found themselves in a golden generation of players even by their lofty standards. The reason you might not remember Padgett’s freshman season in 1994-95 was because he ended up playing only 51 minutes under then-head coach Rick Pitino.

That would be hard to imagine for today’s blue chip recruits brought in by John Calipari. Playing a highly-touted freshman 51 minutes his freshman season would now be a no go at a place like Kentucky, but it even goes further than that. Even common recruits have a sense of entitlement these days when it comes to playing right away, says Padgett.

“There’s a lot more people who don’t want to deal with the process, they want the instant gratification, you know let’s get ready to go play,” he said. “That’s something that’s tough for me because I played only 51 minutes as a freshman. That’s sometimes tough for me to understand that, but that’s the time period we are in now. We live in a microwave society where everything has to be given to us now.”

That quote probably summarizes the contrast Padgett had to deal with as a player, to the one he has had to adjust to and accept in his leading role at Samford. It’s one his team has bought into this season, as the Bulldogs were one of the huge surprises out of the gates, getting off to an 11-4 start.

Though the Bulldogs are currently 12-7, it’s still been a remarkable season considering Padgett had to turn over almost an entire roster of players. And we’re not talking about players that are so-so players. We’re talking about guys that play significant roles and even start at places like Arizona, Louisville and N.C. State.

Again, it harkens back to Padgett’s time in Lexington.

After battling through injuries in 1995-96 — a season which saw the Wildcats go on to capture the NCAA national title — Padgett was ready to help lead the Wildcats back to the title as a significant piece to the puzzle. He’d worked while he waited and had to be patient in finding his opportunity to show he was deserving a floor leadership role in the paint for the Big Blue.

NCAA Basketball: Samford at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

That sacrifice made by Padgett never strays too far from his mind, and it’s a reminder he takes with him, preaching work-ethic and helping establish a culture of change by emphasizing team and sacrifice for one another.

After playing those lonely 51 minutes as a freshman and sitting out his sophomore season, Padgett went on to lead the Wildcats in minutes his final two seasons in Lexington. It’s a message he is hoping will team will buy into when they see the reward for hard work and sacrifice.

“When I was at Kentucky, we all sacrificed and nobody there over my last two years averaged more than 14 points,”

He went on to be drafted into the NBA as the 28th overall pick in 1999 by the Utah Jazz. Padgett was a serviceable big man off the bench for eight seasons, and also spent time with the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and New Jersey Nets.

He has been able to parlay his experiences as a high-level player, particularly during in his time at Kentucky, into being one of the best recruiters in the SoCon, and mid-major basketball at large. That’s been the case even if his players may be too young for any of his accolades or the fact that he was an eight-year NBA veteran make much of an impact with them.

However, his credentials as a player have had some traction with parents, AAU coaches and high school coaches, giving the former All-American a little bit of an advantage in this area over other coaches in the SoCon, save UNCG’s Wes Miller, who won at national title with North Carolina as a player in 2005.

“I think what I did as a player probably helps with more with like parents and AAU coaches and high school coaches,” he said. “They know me in the recruiting process more than actual players because I wasn’t a household name on those teams and most of those guys don’t recognize the eighth or ninth guy on NBA rosters, or were too young to really know much about my Kentucky days because most of them weren’t born.”

Padgett’s story is one worth telling, as he is passionate about making Samford among the SoCon elite, and building that type of culture that takes constant attention to detail, coupled with the right type of personnel to help keep order and focus on team-oriented goals rather than individual ones.

For the second time in Padgett’s young career at the helm, he’s had to deal with massive turnover. He lost his point guard Justin Coleman, who transferred to Arizona. Christen Cunningham, a player who battled injuries and was on-pace to become the school’s all-time assists leader, is now a starter at Louisville, and Wyatt Walker, who was supposed to be the centerpiece of a team that was a darkhorse to claim the 2017-18 SoCon regular-season and tournament titles, now is a starting post player for the N.C. State.

“To be honest with you with the turnover we had, my expectations for this team coming into the season was to be one that changed the culture around here and to have everybody bought in,” he said. “To work hard every day and play for each other and that was my expectation. I thought last year when we had the injuries as the year went along guys were playing for themselves and not for wins and not for each other.“

That been a nice change for Padgett in 2018-19, as he has not had to worry as much about the drama off the floor, and has been able to focus more on coaching and getting Samford basketball to an elite level among its SoCon brethren.

“It was rewarding for me to see this team to come together this summer and hang out on their own, and form the kind of relationships with one another you could tell that were more about winning and there was a hunger there that I didn’t really have a sense of in the past. It’s been nice to be around guys that genuinely care about one another and are just hungry to make us successful as a team and as a program.”

Newcomers like center Ruben Guerrero, and guards Brandon Austin and Myron Gordon have come in and been big contributors for the Bulldogs this season. Add to that, junior point guard Josh Sharkey has really come into his own this season and has meshed well with his new teammates, ranking second on the team in scoring with an average of 14.6 points per game, and a SoCon-leading assists total.

Those players have allowed the Bulldogs to not only be competitive, but seemingly have the ability to challenge for an upper-echelon finish. Samford has had balance, too, a trait indicative of ones that sacrifice.

“This team is more concerned with the Ws and Ls than points per game and if you look at it, we’ve had six different players lead us in scoring this year and our leading scorer does not have the most games leading us in scoring,” Padgett said.

It’s been a tough road for Padgett and Samford basketball, and he’s had more than his fair share of adversity to deal with. However, this season Padgett has been able to get his team focused on collective achievement rather than individual success. That all came out of what was a chaotic off-season, and for that, Padgett and his staff must be commended.

It looks as though Samford’s success in basketball is here to stay as long as Padgett is in town.