The Louisville men’s basketball team plays for a national championship tonight—the program’s first appearance in the title game since 1986.
Denny Crum, the coach of the 1986 and 1980 championship teams, is in Atlanta for the Final Four. Naismith Hall of Fame coach retired in 2003. As this year’s Cardinals prepare to play Michigan, Crum took a few moments to reflect with WFPL on what championships mean for the university and the city.
Here’s some of what Crum had to say.
On how winning a national championship reshaped UofL:
“I don’t think there’s any question it changed a lot of things. I think giving was way up to the university and it’s continued to be that way. I think nationally, I think it gave us a little foothold. In the ’80s, I think we were in four Final Fours and won two championships. No one else did that during the ’80s, so I think that really put us on the map. Since that time, things have continued to be good and in a lot of cases even better. I think our facilities, I think, are second to none at this time, which is a big that that I think not only beautifies our campus but it helps in the recruiting process and it makes everything, I think, easier to do than it used to be.”
On how the ’80s and today are different:
“The difference between the Louisville facilities now and when I was coaching and we won our first championship. We didn’t even a lot of times take the recruits into Crawford Gym. It wasn’t much—it didn’t have any seating and it was, you know, just a gym. It wasn’t anything special like they have now.”
On Louisville’s reaction to the first national championship in 1980:
“People were out from all of their houses, out on the streets, on their front lawns—they were all yelling and screaming. The whole city was kind of united. Everybody was actually, they were talking to each other, they were jumping up and down, they were doing yells. It was almost total chaos, but it was a beautiful thing to see the city come together like that. I think it’s one of the things athletics can do.”
On what happens if this year’s team wins on Monday:
“I think it would make everything just wonderful. I don’t think there would be much negativity at all—even from Kentucky fans. I think they would admire what we have done.”
On the Cardinals chances:
“I don’t think there’s any question that they’re a very good basketball team. They don’t always shoot it as well as I think they’d like to, but they make and create a lot of their offense from their defense. Now whether they can do that against the Michigan guards, I don’t know. When VCU tried to press Michigan, Michigan killed them. So it’ll be interesting to see what Louisville can do against the talent and skill of the Michigan players.”
On what he’d tell the players in the locker room:
“I think probably just concentration and have fun. I mean, how many teams get to play for a national championship. Only two a year out of all 360-some of them. I think I’d tell them to just relax and go out there and play as hard as you can play and just have fun.”
On what he told his players in the ’80s:
“I can remember telling my 1980 team at halftime, I said, ‘You know, winning or losing this game as you probably think it is.’ And I said, ‘But I think it’s a shame that you played so good getting here and now you’re playing scared and tight out there. I think you just need to go out there and relax and do what you’ve been taught to do, and things will turn out good for us.'”