LOUISVILLE (WAVE) – This is a story about Pinky and Scotty, a couple of guys from Louisville’s South End whose giving isn’t limited to the holiday season. Every week of every month, they’re on the job, doing what they can to promote athletics and academics in all parts of our city.
Go to Fairdale High School sometime between now and Sunday, and you won’t have any trouble finding Lloyd “Pinky” Gardner, who is presiding over the 39th King of the Bluegrass High School Basketball Tournament, a showcase for players from the city, state, and selected hoops hotbeds around the nation.
Or plan to see if Coach Scott Davenport’s Bellarmine University basketball team, unbeaten in nine games and top-ranked in NCAA Division II, can extend its homecourt winning streak to 63 when it plays host to Martin Methodist of Tennessee at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 29, in Knights Hall.
Pinky and Scotty share an abiding love of basketball and the city of Louisville. Each has won a state high school championship, Davenport with Ballard in 1988 and Pinky with Fairdale six years later. They both are custodians of Louisville’s rich basketball history.
When they were growing up in the South End, it was a working-class, blue-collar section of the city that was home to a lot of World War II veterans who worked in distilleries, factories, or the Naval Ordnance Plant. Even then, it was foreign territory to the affluent bankers, lawyers, doctors, and business owners who lived in the city’s East End.
Today the South End has morphed into the city’s most diverse area. The blue-collar whites have been joined by Hispanic and Asian immigrants seeking their own version of the American Dream. But many of the city’s elite still believe that South Louisville ends at Churchill Downs. They probably couldn’t find Iroquois Park even with the GPS on their smart phones.
Pinky and Scotty went through out public school system, and they retain the values that were drilled into them by their parents. They are unselfish, modest, polite, honest, and motivated. They are givers instead of takers, which is why they deserve to be singled out as Christmas approaches.
Heaven only knows how many young men, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, have benefitted from their time with Pinky and Scotty. They seem themselves as teachers whose classroom is the gymnasium. And they’ve always stressed the importance of education, no matter a player’s talent level.
Both have learned from excellent mentors.
Scotty was an assistant, along with Tubby Smith, for Mike Pollio, a Louisville native and Bellarmine graduate, at Virginia Commonwealth before coming back to Louisville to coach and teach at Ballard. The star of his 1988 state championship team was Allan Houston, who went to Tennessee and became the second leading scorer (behind Pete Maravich) in Southeastern Conference history.
From there he joined Hall-of-Fame coach Denny Crum’s staff at the University of Louisville, and was retained when Hall-of-Fame coach Rick Pitino replaced Crum in 2001. Even now, former UofL assistant Jerry Jones is a regular at Bellarmine games and practices.
Both Crum and Pitino recommended him to Bellarmine, where he took over a moderately successful program and turned it into a national power. He reached the pinnacle when Bellarmine won the 2013 NCAA DII title, making him the only native Kentuckian to win both state high school and national college titles.
Today the Knights are recognized nationally for the hallmarks of Scotty’s coaching philosophy – discipline, unselfishness, hard work and fundamentals. It’s a philosophy that Pinky totally endorses because it emphasizes team play more than individual athleticism.
After high school, Pinky went to Western Kentucky University, where he was a student manager under Hall-of-Fame coach Ed Diddle and his successor, John Oldham. That prepared him to become the trainer for the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association, where he worked under coaches Frank Ramsey, Joe Mullaney and Hubie Brown.
When the Colonels folded in 1976 instead of going into the NBA, Pinky went into coaching. He was an assistant to Stan Hardin when Fairdale won back-to-back state titles in 1990-’91 and then got his own title after replacing Hardin.
From its beginning in 1980, the King of the Bluegrass holiday tournament has been one of Pinky’s passions. He does everything from recruiting the participants to hiring the officials to making sure there’s plenty of great home-cooked food in the event’s Hospitality Room.
Both Pinky and Scotty have made a nice living from basketball. But neither has ever been driven by money. They truly love the game, the players they get to coach, and the lives they get to change. And it’s that passion that keeps both young at heart.
Scotty usually shows up at the King of the Bluegrass in search of players who are late-bloomers or under-rated by the college scouting services. He believes most big-time college coaches rely too much on the rating services instead of evaluating players on their own.
Not everyone can play for Davenport’s program at Bellarmine, where the academics are every bit as challenging as playing in Davenport’s system. But he has a knack for finding players such as Adam Eberhard and Ben Weyer, a couple of his current stars who maybe were a tad slow – or a tad too something – for the major programs, but who play the game with skill and intelligence.
When it comes time for Scotty and Pinky to retire, they will be virtually irreplaceable. Their knowledge of basketball, and its place in Louisville’s culture, stamps them as different from those coaches – and media types -- who probably couldn’t tell you where Wes Unseld or Ron King went to high school.
One other thing Scotty and Pinky share is a bit of what you might call skepticism about referees. When Bellarmine gets what Davenport deems to be a bad call, he doesn’t let it go quickly or easily. He sometimes gets to the brink of a technical foul, but seems to know just when to back off.
As for Pinky, his role as director of the King of the Bluegrass tournament doesn’t prevent the coach from sometimes coming out in him. A few years ago, he was riding an official hard from his seat at the press table.
Finally, the ref stopped play, pointed at Gardner, and yelled, “You’re outta here!” To which Pinky replied, “No, I’m not…this is my tournament.” After consulting with his fellow officials, the referee changed his position on the floor so he wouldn’t be close to Pinky, who proudly kept his seat.