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Crum's legacy comes full circle with dedication of court

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The coach in Denny Crum is still there,
percolating under the ever-present grin and just-so hair. But these
days, the former Louisville coach keeps his opinions to himself.


"My wife doesn't want to hear it anyway," Crum said with a
laugh.


So instead, the man who led the Cardinals to 675 wins and a pair
of national championships simply watches from the stands at Freedom
Hall, trying his best to blend in with the rest of the 18,000
red-clad Louisville supporters.


Of course, when you spend three decades building a program into
one of the nation's best, blending in can be a little difficult.
During a recent Louisville home game, Crum received a standing
ovation when an in-house camera panned to him during a time-out.


The ever-bashful 69-year-old Crum simply waved and looked away,
almost embarrassed by the outpouring of support.


"I didn't even realize why they were cheering," Crum said.
"My wife had to poke me."

Crum didn't need to be prodded Wednesday night, as the
university dedicated Denny Crum Court at Freedom Hall before the
Cardinals faced Georgetown.


It's an honor that was hard to imagine six years ago, when Crum
abruptly retired after losing a battle of wills with Louisville
athletic director Tom Jurich following a 12-19 season in 2000-01.


"It was disappointing the way it all had to happen," Jurich
said. "But it was a fact of life that we had to face. I wish it
would have been different. One of the reasons I came here was
because of Denny Crum. That made it more difficult."


Looking back, however, Crum views his retirement as a blessing.
While the passion to coach still bubbles up from time to time, he's
focused on finding a life away from crowded gyms on cold winter
nights.


He's more likely to carry a fishing pole these days than the
folded up program he'd smack against his hands during games, a
habit he picked from his mentor, former UCLA coach John Wooden.


"I've really enjoyed my life since I stepped down," Crum said.
"I spent my whole life coaching. I didn't know what a normal life
was. But after a few months of living in a different world, I
really enjoyed having the kinds of freedoms that I never had as a
coach."


Freedoms such as hunting, fishing and playing poker with some of
his former players, spending time with his family and co-hosting a
local sports talk show with former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall.


Yet where so many legendary coaches fade into the shadows once
they step down, Crum has remained visible. He works as a special
assistant to president James Ramsey and attends various alumni
functions with former players like Darrell Griffith, who helped the
Cardinals win their first national title in 1980.


"His outreach goes beyond the athletics and Freedom Hall,"
Griffith said. "He's had an influence on this community that you
can't even put into words."


The hard feelings that surrounded Crum's retirement are gone. He
is now embraced by the same alumni base that was screaming for
change at the end of his career. An alumni meeting Crum attended in
Chicago last month stretched two hours longer than expected, as
fans asked for one more picture, one more story, one more
handshake.


"Coach Crum is Louisville basketball," said Rick Pitino, who
was Jurich's surprise replacement for Crum despite taking arch
rival Kentucky to the national championship in 1996. "He's built
an unbelievable tradition. It's very unusual that someone could
bypass all the temptations of professional basketball and other
jobs and stay and be so loyal to the university."


That loyalty includes deftly sidestepping any questions about
the current state of Louisville basketball. Pitino led the
Cardinals to the Final Four in 2005, but has struggled somewhat
since joining the Big East last season. Yet Crum has been
respectful and supportive, even as the coach inside him screams to
be let out from time to time.


"You can't coach for 41 years and then all of a sudden not
think about what's going on there," Crum said. "I see a lot more
than a lot of people do. But I just try to be a fan. I don't think
I'll ever get to the point where I won't enjoy a good game,
especially where it's Louisville."


Now, the coach who never intended on spending 30 years playing
at a school that perpetually lingered in the shadows of Kentucky
before he got there finds himself a permanent part of the program
he turned into a national power.


"You can't spend 30 years at a place and not grow to love it or
you'd have been gone long before," Crum said. "The fact that I
loved it here and they seemed to want me here and it just seemed to
go on for a long time [is special]. It's not a common thing in this
business for coaches to stay at one place. There's only a few of us
who get a chance to do that."