For years, and years, Cards fans like myself were stuck in an unfortunate age group that had no memories of a National Championship team. We were relegated to second hand tales of the players who helped to hang the banners in 1980 and 1986. The stories of who they were, how they played, and how they came to the University of Louisville were the stuff of legend. They stood out in our memories as giants of their time; but, the longer we went without a Championship the more they became almost mythological in nature.
No more my friends, no more. God willing, there won't be another 27 years between titles. However, no matter what the gap is destined to be between National Championship number three and National Championship number four, we now have our own legends to speak of. We now have our own chapter in Cardinal lore to regale our children with.
In thinking about this, and how fortunate we are to be in this position, a curious thought has begun to envelope my mind. That thought is simply this: the group of players who gave us the gift that is now ours forever, could have very easily never donned Cardinal red. Think about it.....
Peyton Siva: Does Peyton Siva become, arguably, the greatest point guard in the history of Louisville basketball if Rick Pitnio doesn't recruit Terrence Williams, another Seattle kid who became a wildly successful college player and lottery pick?
Russ Smith: By all accounts, Russ never plays a game for Louisville if Ralph Willard doesn't twist Rick's arm into giving him a look. Even after Russ ended up in the Derby City, he was encouraged to follow Steve Masiello to Manhattan College,.... if he felt so inclined.
Chane Behanan: Chane was a Cincinnati kid, who grew up a UC fan. He only ended up in Bowling Green, and ultimately in Louisville, after a tragic house fire forced his family to move to Western Kentucky.
Gorgui Dieng: Gorgui wasn't on anyone's radar until Rick saw him play alongside Justin Coleman, a super athletic player with academic issues, who Rick was willing to take a chance on after most of his 2010 recruiting class slipped through the cracks.
Luke Hancock: Hancock wasn't even going to play D1 basketball as a senior in high school until he went to prep school for a year and ended up at George Mason. Cool Hand Luke probably would have finished his collegiate career at George Mason if it weren't for Jim Larranaga taking the job at Miami.
Kevin Ware: Kevin was slated to play in the ugliest shade of orange known to mankind until Bruce Pearl's barbeque pictures ended up costing him his job at Tennessee.
Montrezl Harrell: Trez was a way early commit to Virginia Tech, and would have been a Hokie were it not for Seth Greenberg losing his job in Blacksburg.
Stephan Van Treese: SVT was encouraged to transfer to Bellarmine, where he would "get an opportunity to play more minutes", and only made it back onto the team because Terry Rozier's scholarship opened up after he didn't qualify academically.
Tim Henderson: Tim "the walk-on who saved Christmas" Henderson. That's it. That's all I got.
Wayne Blackshear: Wayne is the outlier. "F-Dub" is perhaps the only major contributor from the 2013 team who committed early, and was seemingly always going to be a Cardinal.
Maybe I'm all alone here in my amazement? I just find it to be somewhat incredible, when I think about their circumstances, that this whole group ended up at Louisville together. Each and every one of them contributed, in a big way, to the moment that some of us had been waiting on for our entire lives. I would be remiss if I didn't mention a player who wasn't even on this team; but, he's a player I am convinced had his finger prints all over this group for the past two years.
Preston Knowles: Preston! left his mark on this team, of that much I am thoroughly convinced. During his Senior season he was the lone captain amongst a group of young players who took their cues from him on how to play with ferocious intensity until the final horn sounds. Preston set the tone. He showed a nice guy like Peyton Siva what it meant to play with a killer's mentality. He showed an all offense/ no defense player like Russ Smith what it meant to sell out on every play,.... on both ends of the floor.
No one will ever convince me that Preston!'s shadow, and the memory of coming up short against Morehead after his injury, did not loom large over the locker room last year, and ultimately help fuel the 2012 group to New Orleans. Likewise, no one will ever convince me that the experience of last year's run wasn't a major factor in the success of this year's team.
Call it a series of fortuitous coincidences; call it a string of perfect connections, relationships, and events; call it divine intervention; hell,.... call it whatever you want. The story of how this team came to be is one that will be the stuff of its own legend one day just as much as the stories of how it played together on the hardwood.
Personally, I wouldn't have it any other way.