By Jeff Milby —

Anas Mahmoud raises eyebrows just about everywhere he goes. Seven-footers have a way of doing that, especially when they play for a program like the men’s basketball.

This preseason, though, Mahmoud raised eyebrows for an unusual reason. The mild-mannered, soft-spoken senior from Cairo, Egypt made headlines around the country at ACC Media Day, for comments he made with fellow senior Quentin Snider.

“Practice is a lot more fun, a lot more relaxed,” under interim head coach David Padgett than it was under the recently ousted Rick Pitino, he said.

With the off-court issues that have surrounded Louisville, the comment was a blip on the basketball radar — sportswriter fodder, really. It amounted to little more than a day’s worth of headlines.

Once the exhibition season began, Mahmoud began making headlines for his play on the court.

In the preseason opener against Kentucky Wesleyan, Mahmoud scored 20 points, while grabbing five rebounds and swatting an eye-catching seven blocks. In the second exhibition against Bellarmine, Mahmoud finished with a near double-double, notching nine points and 11 rebounds.

Even after filling the stat sheet with individual numbers, Mahmoud was quick to deflect praise and credit his success as part of the team scheme.

“We, as a team, play unselfish,” Mahmoud said. “Every time I was in the post and asked for the ball they delivered it to me. It’s not so much me personally making the move, it’s the other team being worried about how well we shoot the ball.”

That sort of leadership is key, especially from a senior like Mahmoud. For weeks it seemed, the basketball world revolved around Grawemeyer Hall and the Yum! Center practice facility, for the wrong reasons.

“Basketball is our outlet, and that’s what we need,” Mahmoud said. “We need to get out there and play, and kind of stay away from everything.”

Mahmoud and the other seniors have been through this sort of controversy before. When the program self-imposed a 2016 postseason ban, Mahmoud was a sophomore. “We kind off dealt with it a couple of years ago, me and (Quentin Snider) and a little bit (Deng Adel). It definitely molded us.”

While Mahmoud said that practices under Padgett have been more relaxed, the coaching change might mean more attention, and criticism, for him. Padgett, a Louisville alum, played center for Pitino from 2005-08 — the same position Mahmoud plays.

Padgett holds Mahmoud to a higher standard because of that. In the exhibition game against KWU, Mahmoud was late on a backdoor cut.

evident on a backdoor cut in an exhibition. Even during a

“(Anas) looked over at me before the guy even laid it in because he knew what was coming,” Padgett said.

Luckily for Mahmoud, Padgett spared him.

“He [Padgett] didn’t yell actually,” Mahmoud said. “He knew that I knew what he was going say, so he just didn’t do it.”

That sort of understanding only comes with experience, and it’s Mahmoud’s seasoned leadership that will be key for this team, in what has already been a whirlwind year.

You can follow Jeff Milby on twitter @j_milbz.

Photo by Laurel Slaughter / The Louisville Cardinal