In July of 2011, right before the team's Bahamas trip, I wrote about the "Great Expectations" for this program in the coming season. I wrote about how they were expectations that Rick Pitino had placed on this team with his Bridge Year comments at the tip of luncheon the year before. I waxed semi-poetic about the magic of the regular season with Preston! leading the way, and the tragedy of how it all ended. The purpose was to spark a conversation about whether a tremendous regular season with a terrible NCAA tournament could be considered successful. Then I asked a simple question; "Is the 2011 season Final Four or Bust" for you, as a fan/ supporter of Rick Pitino?
I have no idea what the record for votes in a fan poll are here at the Card Chronicle, but this poll recieved 852 votes with 50% saying yes, and 49% saying no. There were 181 comments, with discussions about Rick's performance vs his salary. There were conversations about his tournament success/ lack of over the last 10 years. There were conversations about recruiting woes. There were even conversations about good luck/ bad luck in the tournament, and plenty of comparisons to other programs/ potential replacements for Rick. There was a resounding sense among all who commented, even those who didn't want to say 2011 would be a bust without a trip to NOLA, that they were expecting great things and would be terribly disappointed without a deep run in the Tournament.
Now, just four days from seeing our team tip it up against the overwhelming favorite to win the National Championship, I'd be a liar if said I wasn't amazed that we are where we are. I'm going to be honest, I voted yes in that poll. I voted yes in that poll because like many others I was so tired of not feeling like our program was elite anymore. I was tired of not seeing great teams, with great people/ players, get a chance at immortality. More than any of those things I voted yes, and posted on that topic, because I was on the verge of being done with Coach Pitino.
Last season and this season have shaped my fanhood forever, for the better. Last season taught me that it really is possible to enjoy the ride and not let a disappointing tournament ruin it for you. This season has taught me that it's never too late for a team to right the ship and make, for lack of a better word, magic. How else would anyone describe this run to New Orleans? After re-watching the Florida game, and seeing everything in the world go against us for 32 minutes, I still have no explanation how we are where we are. But, I'm not going to question it.
After seeing this group do what they've done, I'm more convinced than ever that last year's team was in for a similar run before Preston! went down. I'm more convinced than ever that I was so very wrong about Coach Pitino and what I consider a successful season. Most of all, I realize that Rick Pitino is still a brilliant coach who loves/ relates to his players on a level I can appreciate from a very personal point of view. This team really is Louisville First, and that's exactly how I want my team to be. They really do care about their teammates and school far more than they care about anything else.
I ran a few more polls from the end of the season until now, and promised one more after the season ended. The final poll was going to ask whether or not you "approved of the job coach Pitino was doing?" I honestly thought I was foinf to run that final poll last week. I can't see how anyone would vote no at this point, especially considering that the number of votes/ no answers decreased dramatically after the big East Tournament. Instead I'm going to give anyone who feels the same way I do a chance to make amends. For anyone who thought Rick had lost it/ was losing it, wasn't getting the job done, or just flat out needed to be replaced; the question is simple. Do you feel like you were wrong about Coach Pitino? Interpret this however you want and vote your heart. All I know is this, if 423 people felt like this year had to be a Final Four year in order to be satisfied with the outcome, then I don't know how anyone could vote no.
Go Cards, beat UK