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Senior Night Sentamentality: Wayne Blackshear, The NBA Draft, And The End of an Era

This season, not last, was the true end of an era. We have no idea what comes next

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Mike basically wrote the Wayne Blackshear post a few weeks ago.  Wayne Blackshear's senior season, and his entire career, are not technically over yet, and one amazing month or even one amazing game or even one amazing shot could completely change how we look back on Wayne Blackshear's career.  That's the beauty of college basketball in Louisville, Kentucky in this era - there's always more time, nothing is ever really over until it's over, no deficit is ever too big, etc.

But that's the awfulness in college basketball in Louisville, Kentucky as well - when this season is over, a lot is really over.  Wayne Blackshear's time in red and black, Montrezl Harrell's dunks bringing down the Yum! Center, the brief and wonderful career of Terry Rozier (who I'm assuming is going pro, a decision about which I bring literally no value to the discussion), the ties to the championship team, and, truly, the End of this Era of Goode Feelings.  There was some discussion that last year was the end of the era after the UK game.  I had all but written a goodbye post about Trez with frame-by-frame analysis of the #Oopl and some soul searching about whether we really want one-and-dones considering Trez's 2-and-out felt way too short. But when Trez came back, and with Terry playing how he is, with expectations for a deep run...this season feels like it's still part of that same era.

I could write the same soul-searching post about Terry this year, after the season - how he didn't get enough playing time last year and how he rocketed to stardom this year to the point where the #1 variable in a Cards win is Terry Rozier's shooting percentage.  When Terry goes, or if Trez had gone last year, I mean, do we really enjoy that?  We can be happy for them, and I am.  But are one-and-done's, on campus for ~9 months, playing one season, then moving on - is that what we want the program to be?  I like our players and want to see them play for Louisville a lot.  But obviously I don't want anyone who could go pro to continue playing in college.

But this isn't that post, because whether we want it to be or not, that's not our program, and until we have the first guy come here and become a lottery pick after a sensational freshman year, we just aren't going to be the place that churns out 1-and-dones.  Whether it's Nike, Pitino's (deserved) reputation for how freshman fit into the system, other conspiracy theories, or whatever, it's just not us.

And I'm okay with that.  First, one-and-dones does not equal a championship, so we don't technically need them.  Second, as a fan, part of the fun of being emotionally invested in a program like Louisville is that we get to know the players, watch them grow, watch them for more than just 1 season, and protect them like they are our children from the criticism of outsiders.  People STILL wear out Jeff Goodman for that Gorgui tweet.  People will be making Teddy skinny knee jokes from their Grzzyl tablets in 2019.  Maybe we'd do that for someone who played here for 1 season, but if Gorgui left after the his freshman year and got drafted based on his potential, would he be beloved by our fanbase as much as he is?

Which brings me to Wayne Blackshear.  tmjoel did a great job laying Wayne Blackshear's history and his place in Louisville history.  Between that and what Mike wrote, there's probably not a lot more to be said.  But the self-indulgent writer in me likes to reflect on a players career and how it helps us think about Louisville basketball, and Senior Day is the best chance to do that.  Siva and Luke were easy, but Wayne is a lot harder.  Like Siva, he's a McDonald's All-American who stayed 4 seasons.  Pitino talks about him in the same level as Gorgui and Siva in terms of what kind of person he is.  He's never gotten in trouble off the court, and his academic success is commendable.  He's what the NCAA would be talking about when they talk about student-athletes if the NCAA wasn't using the term with cynicism so transparent you can see the black hearts of its leadership through it.

Wayne has played in 2 Final Fours, never lost a conference tournament game, been a 3-year starter for a team that has won more games than any other program in the country over the past 4 seasons, and won a National Championship.  But he's never been The Guy like Siva, Gorgui, Russ, Luke, Trez.  He's always been content to be in the background, only getting attention when he comes up missing.  He's like the PNC Bank (old National City) building in Louisville's skyline - you only notice it if it's not there, and then it's absence is jarring.

Even the "Wayne drawing fanbase's ire" storyline has faded into the background because of the Chris Jones thing, the Terry Rozier slump thing, the Mangok thing, the losing thing.  But with Wayne, Trez, and Terry leaving, this truly is the end of the era that started right around Dec. 25, 2009 - the day Wayne committed, and two weeks after Charlie Strong was hired.  Sure the Bridge Year was uneven but the highs were great, the Siva-Buckles-Preston-Marra-Kuric-TJ group showed flashes of what was to come, and help was on the way in 2 seasons with Wayne Blackshear and his fellow highly rated classmates.

It has been an amazing run, but we can't pretend that it's going to continue the same next season.  Next year, every player from the Era of Goode Feelings will be gone.  Next season, we will have a bunch of freshman and lightly-seasoned sophomores.  Next season, we will have exactly 0 seniors.  Our experienced leadership? Mangok and Levitch.  We have not had a team like that under Pitino, ever.

We like to compare seasons to other seasons, and the similarities with the 2012 Final Four team are definitely there with this one.  But next season will have literally no other season to which we can compare it.  First of all, it will be the first team since the 2004-2005 season without a McDonald's All-American on it.  And it will be the first team ever under Rick Pitino without a McDonald's All-American or a projected first round draft pick on it.  From Reece Gaines to Cisco to Padgett to Earl to Siva to Chane to Wayne - every team under Pitino has had players of an objective (if arbitrary) level of talent.  And this is something crazy I discovered when researching that point: David Padgett was on the same McDonald's All-American team as LeBron James and Kendrick Perkins.  For some reason that doesn't seem possible, but it is true.  Life is weird.

That's not to say we won't have talent next season, won't win games, won't be good.  But it will be a collection of players, talent, sizes, personalities, skill sets that are largely unknown and raw, and with virtually no meaningful experience.  It will take awhile to figure out what our identify is, and even who plays what position.  The overall vibe already seems pessimistic, but I can't help but be excited.  There should be no pressure, we will have a bunch of young guys we get to know, watch grow up, watch gel into a team.  I have no idea what next season will bring, or the season after that.  But one way or another, it will mark the first season of some new, unknown era.

While Saturday's Senior Day comes during a relative low point, let's not let that prevent us from enjoying and appreciating how much Wayne, Trez and Terry have done.  Let's celebrate their efforts, hard work, sacrifices and accomplishments.  Our "low point"  is what most programs consider a good year.

Let's remember that without Wayne and Trez, we don't have our third National Championship, nor do we have the most iconic play of the Era of Goode Feelings.  We all remember how Luke hit those shots, how he stole the ball, how Siva somehow turned and threw an alley-oop, how Trez dunked it.  But watch it again and you may notice that when Luke knocked the ball away, he didn't control it.  How it was actually Wayne Blackshear who gathered it, got it knocked out of his hands, got it back and flipped it to Siva in the exact right spot for Siva to make his pass.  A few inches either way, a few seconds hesitation, and the play never happens.  Wayne Blackshear was a necessary, indispensable party to the whole thing, and we won't know how much we'll miss him until he's actually gone.

Thank you Wayne, Trez and Terry.  Regardless of how this season and this era ends, this has been without question the best time to be a Louisville Cardinal fan of my life, and it could not have happened without you all.

A new era, without Wayne, without Trez, without Terry, without players who have won conference championships in 2 different conferences, pulled out close Final Four games, won more games than anyone else over the same time period, begins soon.

This season, this era, will end someday.  But not yet.  Not yet.