Count me among the throng of ecstatic fans who can't quite believe that just happened. I have physical evidence to prove it. Ears still ringing, hoarse throat, and hands clapped raw. There's a better-than-scripted game recorded on my DVR, Kuric's highlights on all the sport media outlets, and a Dr. Dunkenstein-graced ticket stub on the bookshelf. Maybe the stupor is due to saying goodbye to Freedom Hall in perfect fashion, or the wave after wave of nostalgia (Tong, the chants, the championship players), or being shell-shocked from one of the loudest crowds I can remember. But more than anything else, I blame it on the euphoria that comes from a player you've respected, who you know has the talent, go from role-player to cardinal legend in a mere 14 minutes and 23 seconds. We hope for it every game, it rarely happens.
When Kuric signed, I thought we were getting one of the unlikely stars we've faced so many times before against the Butlers and Creightons of the NCAA. The heady players who shoot lights out and play within themselves. The players who look at recruiting stars, smile, and take their 500th shot of the night in the practice gym. Many cardinal fans shared this sentiment and (for the most part) were willing to be patient because we knew he would be a valuable contributor his Junior and Senior season.
Then there was last night. Reading through posts today, I see a lot of comparisons to Sheppard, Chapman, and Jeff Hall. There are good arguments to be made for each, but I can't help to compare Kuric's developmental arc to Larry O'Bannon's. Two young men recruited as dependable four year players. Both played sparingly, but smartly for their first two seasons, and both hindered by a meekness not suitable for prime time basketball.
There's no need to recap here the player O'Bannon became, suffice to say there was a moment when it clicked; a moment when he realized the best basketball is played when you're taking risks, asserting yourself, and dunking that damn ball as hard as you can. Watching Kuric this year, I hoped Pitino would drop down a box of O'Bannon videos and show Kuric what confidence and assertiveness will do for your game.
Well, success breeds confidence (where have I heard that...). So Kyle, did that feel good last night? Did you enjoy the roar of 20,135 fans starving for that Freedom Hall magic? Of course you did. Chase that feeling. You've earned the right to take the shot, to make mistakes, to carry an inconsistent team on your shoulders. Sure there are seniors who we'd all love to take the spotlight in their final year, but this is about winning, not sentimentality.
You just led your team to an upset of the #1 team in the country and a berth in the big dance. Your face is all over ESPN. Toss that meekness into the Ohio and enjoy the next few weeks. Come back and be a leader on this team the next two years. And from a lifelong UofL fan, thank you. We owe you a nickname.