LEXINGTON — Kasey McRay went to Louisville as a student manager hoping to parlay that into a college coaching job one day.
But the Mercer County graduate gotten so much more than just an insight into coaching, more than he could ever have imagined.
McRay was in Rupp Arena on Wednesday as No. 1-seeded Louisville held an open practice in advance of tonight’s NCAA Midwest Regional game with North Carolina A&T.
“Words really can’t describe it. It’s something that growing up I always dreamed about being part of a college program. Never in my mind did I think it would it be Louisville,” said McRay, a junior at Louisville who grew up a Kentucky fan. “But it’s been incredible. Last year during the Final Four run, it was all kind of a blur to me. I really didn’t take the time to take it all in because it happened so fast.
“And this year heading back to the Big East (Conference tournament), I knew what it was like to win it and I wanted to experience it again. So winning it again was great, and hopefully we can make another Final Four run. And it feels like the only thing missing is the national championship. So I’m hoping for the best.”
McRay has been happy to have been along for the ride. He came to Louisville after his playing day at Mercer ended.
“It was either small-college ball or I was going to try and be a manager somewhere,” he said. “Get my foot in the door to better my future.”
Spencer Tatum, at the time a Mercer boys assistant coach under then-coach Nelson Cundiff, contacted his brother Vince, Louisville’s equipment manger, who was a student manger along with his brother under Rick Pitino at Kentucky.
McRay said he went in for a visit on a Thursday and by Monday he had the job.
“That pretty much took care of my college decision,” he said.
A typical day for McRay has him up early helping out players during individuals drills, then classes, then more individual drills before practice at about 3 p.m.
“During practice, I’m usually doing a lot of upstairs work in the film room. Film is a big part of what I’ve done this year and last year, especially this year. Just getting down and learning stuff and it’s all day any day,” he said.
He said he has learned a lot from watching Pitino run a practice.
“That’s when you get to see coach Pitino at his best. He’s one of the best coaches in the game, in my opinion, and seeing him and seeing how he develops players, it’s great to see him and see him at work,” McRay said. “He watches out for everybody in the program. He’s a real great guy. I love him to death, I really do.”
McRay said getting to break down film, watch practice and learn the ins and outs of coaching under Pitino will help him when he’s ready to start his coaching career.
“That’s the whole reason I chose to come here. And to learn under coach Pitino is not something too many people get to do,” McRay said. “For a coach in any level of basketball, to have that name on your resume is huge.
“The thing I admire most about Coach is his passion. It doesn’t matter if you’re Peyton Siva or Logan Baumann, our walk-on, he’s going to coach everybody. Coach’s passion for the game is something — I’ve never seen anything like it.
“I thought Nelson Cundiff was bad when I was in high school, but you come here and Coach will yell at me, and I’m a manger. But learning the game from him and seeing the little things he does that looking in you’d never notice, but being part of the program you see it every day, and you kind of pick up on it.”
McRay is majoring in exercise science and is scheduled to graduate on time. He then plans on pursuing a master’s degree in speech pathology and becoming a graduate assistant at a school. He wants to get a graduate degree in case a college job does not materialize and he can teach and coach at the high school level.
“I”m hoping for some options to open up,” he said. “I don’t know where I’ll end up.”
But wherever he does land, he knows he’ll be a better coach because of the experience he’s had at Louisville.
“I never knew what doors it would open,” McRay said. “But I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met and how may big-time names I know just from being a manager at UofL for three years.”