Senior Day, a night replete with such an eclectic mix of emotions that you're never sure exactly how you should feel 20 minutes before the tip or 20 minutes after the final buzzer.
There's a game to be won, and of course that's the top priority, but properly honoring a player or a group of players who have done absolutely all they can for four years to add to the rich history of the basketball program you love runs a pretty close second.
We spend a lot of time questioning the decisions these 18-23-year-olds make over the course of a 40-minute basketball game, but something that should never be questioned is the level of effort and determination it takes to bust your ass day after day, month after month, year after year for four collegiate seasons, partly so that we as fans can have something to look forward to twice a week during the winter. That type of commitment demands respect, and to me that's what Senior Day is all about, regardless of who it is playing their last home game.
Every Senior Day is special, but we can't ignore the fact that this one features likely the most beloved Louisville Cardinal is the relatively brief history of Card Chronicle.
There's some confusion (by me) as to when "Preston!" was actually born, but some quick research makes certain that it - which was originally "Preston...Preston!" - first appeared at some point near the end of his freshman season in 2008. Its first cameo in a game thread was by CardsFan922 (sorry, cardscott5) on Jan. 19, 2008, but it didn't really catch on until the next season. Since then, 1,792 comments on Card Chronicle have featured both the name "Preston" and an exclamation point. Countless others have referred to the man with merely the punctuation.
I have to admit that it's been pretty cool to see tweets and facebook statuses today that are nothing but "!."
On a more serious level, it's hard not to view the departure of Preston Knowles as the end of an era for the Louisville basketball program.
Rick Pitino will welcome one of the nation's top recruiting classes next fall, and there's another one prepared to enter the fold 12 months after that. U of L will also bring in controversial, but highly talented, Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods, who will be eligible to see the floor once the fall semester of 2011 ends.
There is nothing wrong with going after the best high school talent in the country and certainly nothing wrong with landing a handful of those guys, but let's be honest, there's a dramatic change in climate coming after this season.
With Tim Fuller and Rick Pitino doing what they're doing in the recruiting world, I'm not sure it's going to be possible for a story like Preston's - a two-star in-state recruit with one other scholarship offer (VMI) who becomes a senior captain and leading scorer for a Louisville team ranked No. 11 in March - to happen again anytime soon.
And that's why what he has done, especially this season, is so important. Look at this quote from Knowles yesterday:
"As long as we win, I couldn't care less; my average can go down to four points and zero rebounds. As long as we win, I don't care."
The kid is establishing himself as a teaching tool for years to come.
Pitino will always be able to talk about the two-star recruit who encouraged teammates to put egos aside for the betterment of the team (one which featured zero NBA-ready talent), and the remarkable results that followed. Perhaps more importantly, the current underclassmen have a model by which to self-govern the blue chip talent and egos about to hit the program.
Both on the Louisville basketball program and on our strange little world, Preston Knowles has already made his mark.
He's a tremendous leader, a clutch performer, and one of the best on-ball defenders to ever wear a Cardinal uniform. He has his own punctuation mark, his own dance, and we all know the name of his dog.
The man is loved.
We'll miss you, Preston.