All of the talk this week about how this is the last week of Freedom Hall, and the fact that Mike is looking for some people to take up the slack has got me to thinking about all of the great memories that I've had in Freedom Hall.
I grew up a University of Louisville fan. I really can't remember why I gravitated towards the Cards over the Cats, (now the reasons are obvious, but as a little ten-year old I didn't have the same hatred) but if I had to venture a guess, it's because my Dad took me to Cards games in Freedom Hall growing up. The thing that you always notice when you walk into the Hall is how much it smells like Caramel Corn. They say smell is the strongest sense tied to memory, and this is one of the things that stands out for me about the Hall. I didn't get to see a lot of great games growing up, because my dad had to use the tickets to entertain clients, so mostly I got to go see all of the games that no one else really wanted to go to, the Saint Louis, Bellarmine, and Louisiana Lafayette games that most grown men don't care to see. But for me it didn't matter. I was just happy to go spend some time with my dad, go see some good basketball, and root for the home team. I grew up idolizing the likes of Dejuan Wheat, Tick Rogers, Nate Johnson, Alex Sanders, Cameron Murray, Brian Kiser, Beau Zach Smith (Beau Zach!) and pretending to imitate all of those guys in my backyard.
One of my first memories in the Hall is a UAB game in Denny's final year. I remember how much that sucked watching us get killed as I thought about what would end up happening to Denny. I was young then, so I can't remember if they had already worked out something where Denny would retire, but I do remember feeling like something was going to change. When Rick came I was excited. He brought more national attention to the program than I could remember since the Wheat years when we lost to UNC in the elite 8. I got to sit court side for the Marvin Stone game, watching Keith Bogans in lay-up lines and wanting to trip him, the IU game where we came back down from 20 in the second half, one of the Memphis games in our last years in C-USA, and all of them were so special in their own way. Freedom Hall is such a great place to watch a basketball game, and when it gets loud you feel like you're with family. It always makes me tear up a little when we go on a run, and the crowd gets into it, and the other team has to call a time-out because they can't hear.
Since I'm out in California this year, I haven't been able to get to any of the last games in the Hall. That means that my last game that I saw there was the UK-Edgar Sosa game last winter. I remember wringing my hands the whole game, I'm not sure I've ever been more nervous. My dad is one of the types who wants to leave with about 2:30 left in the game, but for some reason, we just never left. I remember going berserk when Sosa nailed that jumper, and feeling like I had just hit the shot. It was such a special moment, and beyond the fact that I wanted to kill my dad for ever suggesting that we leave early for this game, I was so happy to have been able to share it with 20,000 friends who shared the same thought. Thank you Freedom Hall for helping me grow up, and thanks to everyone who's been there for all the games I've watched. You guys are great friends, and we share something that nobody else really understands.