The 2014/2015 Louisville Basketball team has problems, several of them. Many will point to Chris Jones as the cancerous source, but his attitude and distractions were only a snippet of the issues causing this tumultuous roller coaster of a season. It wasn't the shooting percentages or missed free throws that bothered me. Blown defensive assignments and freshmen learning curves are part of the process. My concern was the all too obvious disappearance of joy. Somewhere along the line our Birds stopped smiling, ceased playing basketball for the love of the game, and with nine minutes remaining in Atlanta they finally decided enough was enough.
This team was given the daunting task of successfully transitioning Louisville Basketball into a new era, an era no longer consisting of the happiest, most selfless, and most genuine Cardinals to ever don the uniform. It may be just a hypothesis, but a Gorgui Dieng smile cures 97% of known diseases, Peyton Siva's happiness deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, and if those big ears and big laughs courtesy of Russ Smith don't infect one with pure elation, then you my friend are devoid a soul.
Only two members remain from that cherished championship team, and Terry Rozier is the other Cardinal considered an upper classmen due to age, skill, and experience. These three have struggled mending fences between the old and the new, and doubt has begun to surround the "Louisville First" and "Louisville Man" mantras.
Coach Pitino builds our program the right way, with the right kids, and with the only attitude worth believing in. If Coach Pitino steps out on a limb for a young man, I consider myself and our program out on that limb with him. In the end, you can only lead a horse to water; the horse must choose whether or not to drink.
Choice will forever remain something 100% personal and alone. Only an individual has full control over the choices they make. Regardless of background, history, circumstances, peer pressure, or other outside influences, the choice between right and wrong is always our own. People screw up, mistakes are consistently made, but when time is up, we are defined by whether the right choices were made when it mattered most.
Coach Pitino always has his players' best interests at heart, but these athletes must to choose to be a part of something special. Cardinal Basketball is special, the University of Louisville is extraordinary, and this city holds a special place in all our hearts. If one chooses to buy into it all, there is no place on earth with arms that open wider.
For 31 minutes Monday night, 100% of Louisville supporters were questioning the ability, passion, and heart of this basketball team. In the frantic final minutes, every feeling of fanaticism gushed through our veins, and when the clock read zero Cardinal Pride had been fully restored.
Louisville Basketball needed a positive. It needed Terry Rozier to break out of his slump. Coach Pitino needed Harrell to lead with encouragement instead of irritation. Wayne Blackshear had to find any way to contribute. For 75% of the game the sky was falling around Louisville Basketball and the letters N I T began circling our carcasses like buzzards. A shot went through the net, defensive intensity blossomed, and in a blink of an eye, hope had returned to a season destined for hopelessness.
Terry Rozier smiled again; I saw true happiness and enjoyment for the first time in weeks. Montrezl Harrell overcame a poor offensive performance and managed to grin, put his arm around youngsters, and successfully contain his emotions when channeling his inner-coach. Wayne Blackshear played an abysmal 20 plus minutes, received a severe lashing from Pitino, and responded like the senior he should be every second of every game. Snider played up to the moment yet again, and in crunch time Onuaku delivered the biggest block of the year. That was a perfect example of team basketball, that was Cardinal Basketball, and joy finally returned to the Louisville locker room.
The 2014/2015 Louisville Cardinals cannot be considered title contenders, but I refuse to be the one to tell them that. My expectations are to compete for championships, 26 years of waiting for my first one taught me to treasure the experience, and to not hold your breath for the next one. Coach Crum and Coach Pitino have done, and continue to do miraculous things with our basketball program. All I ask for in return are big hearts complimented by even bigger smiles. Welcome back to the love affair Louisville, just in time for March.
All Hail UofL !!