The fourth annual Louisville Live event to kick off the season for the men’s and women’s basketball programs was held Friday night at Louisville Slugger Field.
There was a dunk contest won (eventually) by Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and a three-point contest won by women’s player Payton Verhulst. The event also featured a hot shot contest won by a team captained by U of L assistant coach Nolan Smith, who can still stroke it from outside.
Grammy Award-nominated artist and Louisville native Jack Harlow was a guest host. And, of course, there were recruits on hand for both the men’s and women’s programs.
But this Louisville Live was about so much more than any of that and it was pretty obvious from the start.
The dunking Cardinal bird logo was prominent all over the place, after U of L women’s coach Jeff Walz talked about his team he then went out of his way to talk about first-year men’s coach Kenny Payne and what “just a fantastic” job that Payne and his staff are doing with the program.
When Payne took the stage it wasn’t long before he was flanked by over 40 former U of L players, including U of L greats Pervis Ellison and Darrell Griffith.
It was a re-branding of Louisville basketball and the official start of the Payne-era at Louisville before about 10,000 fans. Payne, who played on Louisville’s 1986 NCAA championship team, came out with Jay-Z’s Public Service Announcement playing at the part that says “allow me to re-introduce myself.”
“When I took this job, I said I can’t do it by myself,” Payne told the crowd. “I said I need this community, you showed up today. This is about you guys. You have come to support this program and this women’s program, this is all-inclusive. We are one. We are The Ville.”
U of L introduced all of the former men’s players in attendance with Ellison being the last one named. It marked the first time that Ellison had been at a U of L event since the final game ever played in Freedom Hall back in 2010.
“Hey guys,” Payne took the microphone back after all of the names were announced. “I really need you to understand this.
“This is Louisville basketball. These are my brothers and these are your brothers.”
Payne then asked, “my roommate (Ellison) can you please come to give me a hug.”
“This is our family,” Payne said to the crowd. “Come and support us. We have a long and great history, and support Louisville basketball.”
Former U of L stars Peyton Siva and Angel McCoughtry were co-hosts along with Harlow, who also served as a judge for the dunk competition.
“I have been away for a while,” Siva said after the event. “But to see the love that is still here is pretty amazing. The fans here deserve what KP is trying to bring to this community and what coach Walz has been doing, so hopefully, they can turn it around this year and make a big run and give the fans something to cheer about.”
Siva gave the fans something to cheer about early in the evening when he said he wore his rings from the 2012 Final Four team and 2013 NCCA championship team.
“I wore my rings tonight because we all know it happened,” Siva said with a smile.
Walz called it “very special” for his program to be part of the event and to have several former players back to help celebrate. Besides McCoughtry, former All-American’s Asia Durr and Myisha Hines-Allen were also at the event. Durr said it was the first time all three had been to an event at U of L together as graduates.
“It’s pretty special,” Durr said. “This is what it’s about. We put in the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears and now we get to see it pay off. It’s fun to be here and see.”