There's been a lot of talk during the so-called one-and-done era about not crowning kids before they ever play a game for their respective program.
I think Louisville fans can make an exception when it comes to 5th-year transfers Trey Lewis and Damion Lee.
When the pair of Cardinal newcomers committed to playing their final season of college ball at UofL last spring, they did so with the intention of proving they had been worthy of playing at the highest level all along. They did so with the intention of proving that the numbers they put up at Cleveland State and Drexel were more than just the product of mid-major competition and a mid-major supporting cast. They also did so with the intention of finally getting a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Trey Lewis and Damion Lee were both thinking about the big stage when they signed up to play basketball at Louisville. Just not the one they were forced onto Wednesday at the ACC's Media Day festivities in Charlotte.
With head coach Rick Pitino being told to sit this one out, Lee and Lewis were forced to face a flood of questions from the media about a scandal they had nothing to do with that has enveloped the program they have still yet to play a game for.
"About 50 percent," was Lee's response when asked exactly how many of the questions hurled his way were about the allegations levied against Louisville by self-described escort Katina Powell.
Say what you will about the state of basketball at "one of them academic schools" (love you, Ice), but Lee never would have had to deal with this ish if he'd stayed at Drexel.
The easiest, and perhaps most understandable thing for Damion Lee and Trey Lewis to have done Wednesday would have been to pout ... at least just a little bit. A couple of passive aggressive answers here and there that made it clear they wished they'd have picked one of the many other high-profile programs who were after their services. A handful of annoyed "no comments" to questions they could have easily answered. No smiles, no character, no honestly.
That would have been the easy thing for Lee and Lewis to do, and no one would have blamed them. Instead, they opted to be delightful.
#ACCMediaDay MOMENT OF THE DAY: Louisville's Trey Lewis playing DMX's Ruff Riders Anthem on piano as Damion Lee freestyles about media day.— Marilyn Payne (@marilyn_payne) October 28, 2015
trey lewis & damion lee handled themselves extremely well -- smiled through it all even with all the tough louisville questions— martin rickman (@martinrickman) October 28, 2015
"I felt like Damion and me were groomed for this moment," Lewis said. "We have the ability to come in, be good teammates, have great leadership."
That leadership was put to the test in a way neither one could have ever seen coming almost four weeks ago when the news first broke about "Breaking Cardinal Rules."
"I texted my teammates," Lee said when asked what he did after he first heard the news. "I told them, 'I'm here for you and there's nowhere I'd rather be than right here with my brothers.'"
That's a pretty remarkable thing for anyone, let alone a newcomer, to do.
But what if things somehow get even worse and Louisville does, as some have suggested, go the route of self-imposing a postseason ban? Or what if the NCAA's investigation progresses faster than anyone is envisioning and they level that penalty themselves? Surely then, at least a little bit of second-guessing and bitterness would flow through the veins of two of the tri-captains.
"If something like that happens, it happens," Lee said. "That's something I have no control over. All I have to do is make sure that I keep these guys in positive spirits. If something like that happens, so be it. Maybe it wasn't meant for me to play in the tournament. But that doesn't mean that my basketball career ends there. I still have a couple more years left to play basketball."
The more likely scenario, given the assumed length of the NCAA's investigation (and all other investigations), is that this season plays out much like any other, and Lee and Lewis both have a chance to hear their team's name called on Selection Sunday for the first time. Even with the circus surrounding the program being more unavoidable than ever on Wednesday, both players reiterated that basketball and having a successful season has and will continue to be their lone focus.
Player leadership is one thing, but the press in Charlotte was understandably more interested in hearing about the state of mind of the program's frontman himself. Though Pitino wasn't in Charlotte to defend himself or his program with his own words, I'm not sure he could have done a better job than his two representatives did.
While many would expect Lee or Lewis to harbor at least some feelings of resentment towards Pitino, or at the very least feel just a little bit sorry for themselves, the only feelings of remorse either expressed were over the fact that their coach was being forced to deal with this at all.
"You've seen the attacks he gets in the media," Lewis said, "but, you know, if coach is ever bothered by this, he does a great job of hiding it because we can't tell. I worry about him all the time. I pray for him all the time. But he handles this very well. He comes in fired up every day. It seems like he's more fired up now."
I typically pen a post on this website during the week leading up to opening night to try and fire everyone up and get their minds right for the five months ahead. The performance Damion Lee and Trey Lewis put forth for the media on Wednesday should have done a better job of convincing you that this season still has the potential to be special than any words I could have served up over the next two weeks.
Before ever stepping foot on Denny Crum Court for an actual game, Lee and Lewis ought to have already carved themselves a special place in your fandom heart. I don't know how successful they're going to be in terms of wins and losses, but after a month where it's been more difficult than ever to make the statement, this team is going to make all of us damn proud to be Louisville fans. My confidence in that assertion rests largely with the two young men at the top.