Ralph Willard joins Louisville staff

University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino announced the hiring of Ralph Willard to his staff. Willard, a former assistant at U of L under Pitino and a longtime head coach, will replace Wyking Jones, who spent four years on the Cardinals' staff.

Ralph Willard is coming back to the bench with the University of Louisville basketball program next season.

Willard, who spent two years on Rick Pitino's staff at U of L, has been hired by Pitino to replace Wyking Jones, who left to become an assistant at California.

A 39-year veteran of coaching basketball, Willard will join the staff on June 1 and Pitino called him a "very important" to the success of next seasons team at U of L.

"I've asked Ralph Willard to come back for next year as we have a totally new basketball team," Pitino said. "I couldn't afford any other changes, including potentially moving David Padgett up this year because he is invaluable as our director of basketball operations.

"I needed someone who knows the University of Louisville and knows our program. Ralph is a great basketball mind, a great evaluator of talent and will be tremendous working with our new team. I'm really excited to welcome him back."

Pitino said he told Willard he needed him "for a year," especially with the U of L coach being away a lot this summer while he coaches the Puerto Rican National Team. Willard, Kenny Johnson and Padgett will also coach the U of L team on he foreign trip the Cardinals' will take in August to Puerto Rico, while Pitino and Mike Balado are on the other bench.

"Having Ralph back will be really big for us," Pitino said. "This trip is very important and we needed him for this year."

Pitino said Willard thought about taking him up on his offer prior to last season but after talking with Richard Pitino said he "needed to get a recruiter" and "when you get the players in place come back to me."

And that's when Pitino hired Kenny Johnson, who landed Trey Lewis and Damion Lee.

Willard served as head coach for four seasons at Western Kentucky (1990-94), five years at Pittsburgh (1994-99) and 10 at Holy Cross (1999-2009). He was an assistant under Pitino in the NBA with the New York Knicks and at Kentucky in 1989-90.

At U of L, Willard was an assistant in 2009-10 and was the Director of Basketball Operations during the 2010-11 season.

After leaving U of L, Willard was a consultant at Holy Cross for two years before serving two years as a scout for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"I told him, I want a Russel Westbrook (type) in the next class," Pitino joked.

Added Pitino: "He is one of the greatest evaluators of talent I've ever known and he got better when he got out of the college game."

Willard is the coach responsible for U of L taking a chance on then 2-star Russ Smith, who turned into a consensus All-American with the Cardinals.

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