I recently turned 31 years old in the same year I graduated from the University of Louisville. I've been a lot of things in those 31 years. I've been a sailor, a concrete mason, a brick layer, a painter, a bag boy, a UPS slave; I've worked on a tobacco farm, an asphalt crew, I've built bank vaults, I've installed satellites for Dish Network, I've operated a printing press, I've installed water meters, and I've even written a post or two for the greatest sports blog on the planet. But one thing I've never been able to call myself is a fan of a National Champion.
There are Cardinal fans aplenty who know what I'm talking about. There have been moments when we thought that surely our time was near. There have been moments when we thought it was just over the horizon for us; moments when we found ourselves daring to dream of how it might feel to see the final seconds of a Championship run tick away into what we've all been waiting for.
As the 2011-2012 basketball season approaches, I find myself thinking about those things long before I know I should. I find myself wondering if I should go ahead and book my trip to New Orleans; and while I know it's almost ludicrous to think like that before the first game has even been played, I can't help myself. The heights to which the core of this team took me last year have dared me to dream the impossible dream.This roster is filled with names that deserve to be immortalized for the sacrifices they've made, and the selflessness they exude.
The veterans on this team went through battles with some of the best teams in the nation last year and came out on top. They, along with the newcomers, will be thrown into the fire early and often this year in preparation for the NCAA tournament. Come March there won't be many teams who have been challenged or, seen as many styles of play as this group. They will remember last season and the pain of that first round exit, they will remember how it felt to see their team mate's devastated faces, and their senior leaders remove the Cardinal jersey for the last time. They will be driven, bound and determined to succeed; of that I have no doubt.
This team is not last year's team, I know that; but they are, for the most part, the same players who were on last year's team. They are the same players who will be even better this year. They are the same players who rarely lost a game last year if they kept the rebounding margin close. They are the same players who proved they could win a game whether it was a sprint, or a grind. They are the same players who proved they could out think an opponent even if they couldn't out talent one.
The addition of a potential rebounding-machine, an elite talent on the wing, and what we all hope is a good backup at the point guard position (after the second semester), has me almost glowing at the possibilities of what may be in store for this group. The pre/ conference slate of games has me salivating not only at the match-ups, but also at the lessons that this group will learn, and the experience they will gain.
I'm not going to guarantee that this is the year. I'm not going to say we, as fans, deserve a Championship; I'll leave that to those who would argue that past accolades entitle one to present glory. I, like many Cardinal fans of my generation, have been to close too that peak to plant my flag before I actually get there. What I will say is this; there are few programs who can match the kind of support and unadulterated love that we as Louisville fans show for our team. That doesn't entitle us to a Championship, because they are earned, not given.
There are fans of a very few programs who care as much about their College Basketball as Louisville fans do. Some of us remember past glory and some of us don't. For those who do, you've been faithful for a long time in waiting for a return to being able to proudly saying you are the best. For those of us who, cruelly, aren't old enough to remember Louisville Basketball in the 1980s, we've gone our whole lives knowing our program is great, but never being able to revel in the moment when that faith was turned into absolute truth.
This could be the year, I dare to dream this is the year. Maybe it's not; but, all the pieces are in place (fingers crossed, #ClearShear) for a run to New Orleans, knowing that is what gives me goose bumps when I think about what lies ahead over the next five months.