Louisville basketball’s ‘secret weapon’: Eli Foy transforming Cards during summer workouts (2024)

Brooks HoltonLouisville Courier Journal

Louisville basketball’s ‘secret weapon’: Eli Foy transforming Cards during summer workouts (1)

Louisville basketball’s ‘secret weapon’: Eli Foy transforming Cards during summer workouts (2)

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Nine days into the job, Louisville men's basketball head coach Pat Kelsey revealed he was bringing a "secret weapon" with him to the 502.

His name is Eli Foy. He is the Cardinals' strength and conditioning coach and has been Kelsey's go-to guy in the weight room since 2018.

Over the past three months, Kelsey has described Foy as everything from "a rock star" to "a unicorn." He believes you'll be hard pressed to find a better relationship between a head coach and a strength coach across the country than theirs and backed up that claim by naming Foy his chief of staff when he arrived at U of L from Charleston.

The 32-year-old isn't just an important cog in the program. Kelsey likes to say, "He is the program."

Foy lives for this time of the year.

The members of Kelsey's inaugural Louisville roster have arrived on campus for summer workouts. After a whirlwind spring of navigating the NCAA transfer portal, these days are the next steps of the head coach's quest to return the Cards to national prominence after they went 12-52 during the Kenny Payne era.

The players will spend a lot of time with Foy, who said his training regimen is "going to be a little uncomfortable.

"We kind of break you down a little bit before we build you back up," he added. "I always tell the guys, 'It's just brick by brick.'"

If you ask someone who's been through Foy's workouts, they'll tell you that's not coach-speak.

"He ain't kidding about breaking you down," said Dalton Bolon, who played at Charleston from 2021-23. "It's definitely the hardest lifting I've ever done."

The pain is worth it.

Those like Bolon, who make it to the other side, typically find themselves in the best shape of their lives. And when they take the court for Kelsey, they're committed fully to a culture that, in his words, "eats strategy for lunch."

This is how Foy became one of the head coach's most-trusted architects.

'I didn't quit'

Foy ran into a bathroom and vomited into a toilet.

When he returned to the weight room, his mentor told him he had passed the test.

Toughness is one of the core tenets Kelsey's players must live by. It's forged, he said, while they train with Foy.

Foy traces his toughness back home, to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he said folks pride themselves on "being able to do a lot with a little and not making excuses.

"I've just had good people in my life who have always challenged me," he added.

Three of those people are his parents, Calvin Foy and Sharon O'Brien, and his stepfather, Kipp Metzger.

His father, who died last year after a bout with pancreatic cancer, was a "do-it-all" maintenance man — everything from carpentry to plumbing. His mother runs an Arizona-based nonprofit called Literacy Connects.

Then, there's his mentor, Chris Rounds.

"It was him just throwing me in the fire," Foy said, "and saying, 'I'm not going to hold your hand. Sink or swim.'"

They met in 2015 at the University of Arizona, where Foy was "somewhat of an average" jumper on the track and field team who "went down the rabbit hole" of sports performance training. It was about a year or so after he graduated, while he was doing everything from coaching track teams in the Tucson area to working as a personal strength coach.

Rounds, meanwhile, has spent more than a decade with the Wildcats as the strength and conditioning coach of their men's basketball team. He arrived in 2009, following Sean Miller from Xavier. Those around the commonwealth may remember him as an assistant strength coach on Kentucky's 1998 national championship team.

This is where Kelsey enters the picture. He met Rounds through his alma mater, where he worked for two seasons on Chris Mack's staff after Miller's departure, and holds him in such high regard that he called him for guidance when he needed to hire a new strength coach at Winthrop ahead of the 2018-19 season.

"I knew I couldn't hire him," Kelsey said. "I said, 'I need a Chris Rounds; I need someone with your mentality.'"

Rounds told him about this young guy who cold-called him three years ago looking for a spot on his staff, then played a key role in developing Deandre Ayton into the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

He didn't just hand Foy a job, either.

The day they met, Rounds had Foy shadow him while he led a workout. After the players left, he told him, "If you're going to be here — (if) you're going to tell these guys what to do — you've got to feel it yourself."

Then, it was time for an impromptu lift.

"He absolutely smashes me on the workout," Foy said. "He (was) just trying to break me, essentially, and just see, like, 'Is this dude going to quit or not?' And, you know my crazy ass, of course I didn't quit. I went so hard and tried not to show any weakness, but he could tell I was cooked."

In the end, his toughness was co-signed by one of the best in the business.

'Dream job'

Foy said accepting Kelsey's offer to join his staff at Winthrop was "the best decision of my life."

Their motto is, "Treat every job like it's your dream job." Together, they've won four conference tournament championships and reached the NCAA Tournament three times.

"His drive and his passion and his energy is so special," Foy said of Kelsey. "You can't help yourself but to believe in this vision that he's putting forward."

Bolon was a member of one of those teams. He transferred to Charleston ahead of the 2021-22 season after being named a three-time Division II All-American at West Liberty University. What he found with the Cougars was a program that did not carry itself like a mid-major.

"If you didn't take it serious," he said, "those type of guys don't play for coach Kelsey."

One of Kelsey's many sayings is, "The standard is the standard." Foy enforces it.

"Part of what makes him great is his ability to push buttons to get the most and the best out of the young men under his charge," Kelsey said. "What makes him special is his ability to build rapport and relationships and trust."

Bolon trusted Foy when he developed a personalized workout plan for him after he broke his right foot three games into the 2021-22 campaign. He was never the most athletic player, so his goal was to be the best-conditioned on the court when he was able to return to it. He remembers Foy telling him, "An average person would never do this."

They drilled the Assault AirBike, the VersaClimber — you name it. If their hotel on away trips had a pool, they'd head there as soon as they arrived. Bolon attacked the rehab process with such intensity that he earned a nickname, "Psycho D."

"I couldn't run for nine months," he said. "(My) first day back running, I ran a sub-5:15 mile."

Bolon started at guard for all 35 of Charleston's games in 2022-23 and made the All-Colonial Athletic Association first team. The Cougars won a school-record 31 games, were ranked as high as 18th in the AP Top 25 poll and ended a March Madness drought dating back to 2018.

Bolon's transformation speaks to why Foy can't pinpoint one, including Ayton's, as his best.

"That's like asking somebody who their favorite kid is," he said. "It's that personal relationship and us building toward something and achieving goals; that's the part that's important to me."

He and Bolon have only grown closer since the latter's playing days ended. In fact, he flew from Louisville to Charleston for a night in April to be in Bolon's corner when he made his boxing debut.

'The highest level'

Foy doesn't plan on changing much, if anything, to do with his regimen now that he's back at a high-major program.

"I know it sounds crazy," he said, "but it feels no different than when we were at Winthrop (and Charleston); because we've always operated at the highest level. Everything we did — every day, all the time — was with excellence at the highest level."

Louisville's summer workouts began with Foy running players through NBA draft combine testing. He charted their results and compared them to the top-10 finishers in the drills this year in Chicago.

"(I'll) put you on Front Street and be like, 'This is where you're at. This is somebody who is playing in the NBA, your ultimate dream; this is where they're at,'" he said.

"Everybody's going to have something different that they need (to improve)."

Foy tries to make reaching those goals fun by getting players out of the traditional weight room setting and embracing another one of Kelsey's core tenets: competition. Now that he's coaching in Muhammad Ali's hometown, for example, he's planning to continue his tradition of spending a day doing a boxing workout at a local gym.

While he was at Charleston, Foy also organized something called "Culture on the Coast," during which players drafted teams and went head to head in events on the beach.

"'There's only one winner and one loser' — that's a big thing we'd say," Bolon said. "There are no participation awards."

When the dust settles, everyone's ready to go to battle with one another. Foy believes that will always be the case as far as he Kelsey are concerned.

The head coach prides himself on creating a family atmosphere at every stop of his tenure. Foy felt it most when he lost his father last year.

Kelsey, he said, paid for several round trips from Charleston to the Virgin Islands so Foy could take the lead on caretaking duties and tying up loose ends. He's admittedly not too open with his players about his personal life, so Kelsey was the one who informed the Cougars what he was going through.

He did so, Foy said, by huddling the team up during practice one day. After he was done, they said a prayer and got back to work.

Reach Louisville men's basketball reporter Brooks Holton at bholton@gannett.com and follow him on X at @brooksHolton.

Louisville basketball’s ‘secret weapon’: Eli Foy transforming Cards during summer workouts (2024)
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