For me, the Billy Minardi Classic ranks right up with there with decorating the tree, hanging lights and watching "A Claymation Christmas Celebration."
The 12th installment of the event - which began as a four-team tournament to honor the memory of Joanne Pitino's brother, who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 - will take place Saturday afternoon when the Cards take on longtime rival Western Kentucky, and Rick Pitino's old friend Ray Harper. This comes a year after the event featured Pitino taking on his son, Richard, and Florida International in a game attended by nearly the entire Pitino family.
This is just the type of spirit that "The Bill" (a nickname my friends and I have used since high school) fosters. A lot of people hate the "cupcake" games in the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas, but I've always enjoyed them. It's generally a relatively relaxed environment that allows you to fully enjoy the experience of watching a Louisville basketball game with friends and family. These games also tend to produce a lot of the little, funny moments that we end of referencing consistently over the succeeding months.
While the BMC hasn't always been a cause for celebration (the Cards lost to UMass in 2006), there's no question that it's become somewhat of a de facto Derby City holiday.
Anyway, here are a few of my favorite "The Bill" memories from over the years:
--I used to beg every year for someone to make a "(Insert Year) Billy Minardi Classic Champions" shirt with a cheezy phrase that referenced U of L's BMC superiority on it. It's never come to fruition, but I have now personally seen Billy Minardi Classic t-shirts from multiple years in the flesh. We know the capability exists.
--One of my closest friends ("Dan" from the New Orleans trip...and life) once had a streak of bringing five different dates to The Bill. He's now about to experience his second BMC as a married man. Things change, people grow up, The Bill stays The Bill.
--In 2008, Louisville dunked approximately 9,000 times on Ronnie Arrow's South Alabama team. After the game, Arrow had this to say:
"I was reading (Coach Pitino's) book last week and he said you've got to be positive, and with a team like that, it's easy to be positive. He's got a heck of a group and they come at you. You can prepare for it, but you can't prepare the heat you're going to get for 40 minutes. Those guys have bought into it and they're going to keep coming at you for 40 minutes. I thought our guys did a decent job, but they want you to crack and in most cases, that's what happens. Things will go good and all of sudden, they'll cause four turnovers and force the other team to take a bad shot - which is like a turnover - and boom, they're up 22 points. That's what happened to us."
The original boom quote?
It's also worth noting that Arrow unexpectedly announced his retirement on the afternoon of the 2012 Billy Minardi Classic.
--A year ago, Wayne Blackshear matched his career-high with 18 points and Peyton Siva was named the game's MVP after setting a new career-high for both made 3-pointers (5) and assists (12). The game also featured college basketball's first father/son coaching matchup in 17 years.
--The only time Louisville has faced a ranked foe in The Bill came in 2010 when the then-unranked Cards upset No. 20 and previously unbeaten UNLV. Preston Knowles went ballistic in the second half as Teddy Bridgewater watched from the student section during his official visit.
The game also produced perhaps my favorite Villen video of all-time, as the man references PK with his CC trademark (!) and captures Teddy on camera at U of L for the first time.
Bridgewater committed to Louisville nine days later.
The Bill is magical.