Ah Senior Day, a night bursting 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 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.
So let's take a brief look at each of the four Cardinals who will be stepping on Denny Crum Court for the final time this evening.
Don't be afraid to go grab the Kleenex...seriously, go get it....SERIOUSLY...OK, now you're not allowed to cry.
Every successful team in every sport has at least one player who will never get the praise or recognition he's earned and deserves.
The thing about Louisville's is that he doesn't care.
There isn't a senior point guard in the country with an excuse to pout that rivals Andre McGee's. A starting floor general since his freshman season, McGee was brilliant down the stretch a year ago, guiding the Cards to the Elite Eight by providing a steadiness and defensive intensity that Edgar Sosa simply couldn't match. And still, he was informed before his senior season that he and Sosa would be splitting the starting duties.
Even if they tried to toe the company line, nine out of ten kids playing basketball at major programs would have found it impossible to mask their disgust if placed in the same situation. McGee took it in stride. Even after the decision was made in early January to make the consistently erratic Sosa the full-time starter, the senior co-captain's game and demeanor changed about as much as the mayor does around here.
Having a veteran whose selflessness is so impossible to ignore is a colossal boon, especially in a sport like college basketball where every freshman on every team has been told for seven years that he's good enough to be in the NBA. You never have to wonder how not starting or being taken out of a game or having an off-shooting night is going to affect McGee, he simply cares about his team scoring more points than the one it's facing.
And it's not like the man can't play.
A pure scorer coming out of high school, McGee is still capable of having nights where the rim looks like a laundry basket. He makes heady decisions with the ball in his hands, is capable of beating his man off the dribble and is just as likely to have a big shooting night as anyone on the team not named Jerry Smith or Preston Knowles.
He can also defend a little.
There have been multiple times where we've seen opposing point guards who've had to deal with McGee for an extended period get that same look on their face that the spoiled kid who always started crying and left in the middle of pickup games got just before he went home. Simply put, Andre McGee's defense makes you want to stop playing the game. He's relentless, and when the other four Cardinals on the floor see that type of energy they can't help but raise their own effort level a notch.
Though he'll never be highlighted in a pre-game "star watch"and he's unlikely to be named MVP of anything, whatever Louisville is able to accomplish over the course of the next month wouldn't have been possible without Andre McGee.
Will Scott is smarter than you are.
In late January, Scott was accepted to study at Oxford University. At Oxford, he will pursue a master's degree in Modern Chinese Studies, a program which will prepare him for a possible position in diplomacy or business relations with China. Only 15 people in the world are accepted into the program each year.
Will Scott's also better at basketball than you are.
The high point of the Cornell transfer's Cardinal career likely came in his first season at U of L when he scored nine, 19 and ten points against Ohio, St. Joseph's and Bellarmine in a three-day, round-robin tournament. Though he's hit double figures just once since, his head coach continues to say that Scott will hit a big shot before his basketball career is over.
To date, his biggest, or at least most memorable, shot is likely a half-court heave to beat the halftime buzzer in Louisville's second round romp of Oklahoma in last year's NCAA Tournament.
Even more impressive than that shot, perhaps, is Scott's uncanny ability to be on the floor whenever the crowd rises to its feet or starts a particularly loud C-A-R-D-S cheer. Seriously, pay attention next time, it's creepy.
Whether or not Rick Pitino's prediction comes to fruition, the fact remains that Will Scott is smarter than you are and better at basketball than you are. Live with it.
Nothing about Earl Clark is customary.
He nearly records triple-doubles while you're complaining about his effort level. He scores his 25th-point two seconds after you've asked whether or not he's made a shot all night. And he knocks down the open outside shot every single time you overreact when you see him pull up.
It's oddities like these that have made Clark one of the most oft-discussed Cardinals in recent memory.
It began with multiple rumors about whether or not he was on campus as a freshman, continued with concerns over his lack of playing time once the season began, heightened with a debate over if he deserved to start over senior Juan Palacios as a sophomore, and reached unprecedented heights with his sometime brilliant, sometimes befuddling play over the course of what will be his third and final season at U of L.
There's no denying that Clark is one of the most naturally gifted players to ever don a Cardinal uniform. He's a 6-foot-9 forward with long arms and a big frame who can handle the ball, hit the outside shot with some regularity, and block shots from any spot on the floor.
He was tremendous in the '08 NCAA Tournament, averaging 14.5 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 62 percent from the field and serving as the matchup nightmare nobody had an answer for.
Still, it's the next month that will determine Clark's ultimate Louisville legacy.
If he steps his game up the way he did a year ago and leads U of L to Detroit, then he'll undoubtedly be remembered in the same light as Francisco Garcia, another talented player who left early and was highly criticized throughout his junior season before a magical postseason. If he doesn't and the Cardinals underachieve, then folks in the Derby City will forever link the soft-spoken Clark with disappointment and talk of what might have been.
A lot has been made of Clark's decision to leave early, but how can you judge a man who's going to essentially be paid millions to stop going to school and play the game he's been playing for free all his life?
All of us who have followed him know that if Earl is able to make the same level of progress over the next three years that he's made since arriving at U of L then he's going to be special.
Here's hoping he's special for the next five weeks.
Terrence Williams will never be forgotten. I think that's the only way to begin an ode to a man who does it all on the court and says it all off of it.
As charismatic as he is athletic, T-Will has been a constant source of excitement, humor, debate and praise for the past four years. The dunks, the outfits, the quotes; he's the closest thing to Elvis the new generation of Cardinal fans have experienced.
Like all great entertainers, Williams has saved his best act for last.
In his senior season - a season Williams readily admits he never thought would take place - the co-captain is averaging career bests in points (12.5), rebounds (8.5), assists (4.9), blocks (.8), field goal percentage (43.2%) and three-point field goal percentage (35.6%).
"He has the ability to not just be a scorer, but be somebody who makes the players around him better," Providence coach Keno Davis recently said. "He can have a huge scoring night, but he can beat you other ways. He can beat you with his passing, he can beat you with his defense, he can beat you with his rebounding.
"You can't really game plan against him. What do you need to take away from him? Well, he does everything."
It's no surprise that with him doing everything, Williams' team's won-loss record and national ranking are more radiant than they've been at this point since he's been here.
Five years ago, the term "T-Will-ism" meant nothing to Louisville basketball fans, now everyone can reel off their favorite on a seconds notice.
Here's a collection of the best:
--"Talking to these freshman is like talking to a pond - just because the water moves doesn't mean it's listening."
--(On how much the team feeds off of David Padgett) "How much do people eat off plates? We feed off him a lot because he's our point-center, our point-forward, our point-shooting guard. He's everything because he rebounds the ball, he passes the ball, he leads us. He could lead us out of the closet, lead us to the ocean. He's just our everything."
--"David Padgett is the t-shirt of this team. You wouldn't go outside without your t-shirt on, and we don't go out on the court without David Padgett."
--"I've realized that if we just keep winning games, eventually we'll win the national championship"
--"You know when you buy a firework? You can't light the firework without what? Fire, right? We can't get going unless PK is really in there."
--"Have you ever been walking and seen a loose dog and been like: 'Whose dog is that?' 'Cuz you know dogs is crazy. PK is crazy like that."
--"It doesn't make any difference to us who announces the games."
--"No I'm not surprised at how I shot today. If it's two in the afternoon and its dark outside, then I'd be surprised."
--"Assists make me happy. Points are just something everybody else in the country gets."
What the hell are we gonna do without this guy?
I think we need to end this post on a happy note.
While it's certainly going to be sad to see all three of these guys walk off the Freedom Hall floor for the last time, let's be thankful that this isn't where the story ends. The legacy of this quartet still won't be anywhere near complete by this time tomorrow. This group has the chance to do some very special things in the coming weeks, and a chance the chance to carve an even more special place for themselves in U of L basketball history.