Louisville basketball fans don't celebrate commitments anymore, at least not the way the fans of the sport's other elite programs do. It's hard to blame them.
Since 2010, Cardinal fans have seen three high-profile recruits pledge their allegiance to Rick Pitino, only to get cold feet before signing their names on the dotted line.
First there was Rodney Purvis, who was the No. 7 overall player from the class of 2012 when he committed to Louisville in Dec., 2010. He posted pictures of himself in Cardinal gear constantly, he tweeted about how he couldn't wait to be on campus, and he decommitted from UofL after five months. About two years after Pitino lost Purvis, he landed another 5-star in Huntington Prep's JaQuan Lyle. Lyle reversed course even faster than Purvis, announcing his decommitment after just three months as a Cardinal pledge. The blue-chipper who takes the indecision title, however, is LSU-bound Antonio Blakeney. The 5-star shooting guard said he had known he was going to Louisville "for two months" before committing on last Sept. 4. He decommitted just 11 days later.
With all this being the case, it was thrice bitten, four times terrified for Cardinal fans when another 5-star recruit, small forward V.J. King from the class of 2016, committed to UofL last week.
For any other college basketball program in the country, the news would have elicited widespread celebration. King is 6'7 with a Montrezl Harrell-esque wingspan, he can handle the ball, he can pass, he can shoot, and he's a tremendous finisher around the rim. He picked Louisville over a final five list of schools that also included Kentucky, Connecticut, Arizona and Virginia. King also, by all accounts, has an attitude and a persona in line with those who have played the largest roles in Louisville's recent run of success.
Still, the merrymaking that typically comes along with this type of announcement was noticeably circumspect from the Louisville fan base. For every online declaration of joy there was at least one "how long until he decommits?" tweet. For every Facebook post praising the Cardinal coaching staff's work to bring in the 11th-best rising senior in the country, there were two or three "I'll celebrate when he signs" pronouncements.
No recruit is ever going to tell you that he might start looking around again in a few months or that his heart is only halfway committed to the name on his hat, but there are reasons to believe King when he says that he will be playing his college ball at Louisville.
"I've had 80 Division-I commits over the years and not one of them has ever decommitted," said Glenn Farello, King's coach at Paul VI Catholic High School. "A lot of times when you see people decommit, it's because they get caught up in all the glamour and all the attention. V.J.'s not wired like that at all. This one's in the books, folks."
There are no guarantees in recruiting, even when the actual word is spoken (or tweeted), but those comments should provide at least some comfort to Cardinal fans wounded deeply by the arrows slung in recruiting years past.
Instead, UofL fans have have remained guarded, pointing to King's affiliation with a Nike AAU program, the same situation most Cardinal fans believe played at least some role in Blakeney's decommitment last fall. The difference? King's "Team Takeover" AAU program was once headed by Kenny Johnson, the Cardinal assistant who was the frontman on King's recruitment.
"I talk to Kenny almost everyday," King told Scout.com. "Out of everybody he was on me the hardest. We talked the most and most of the time it wasn't about basketball. I formed a really good relationship with him and I can really trust him. He was one of the driving forces in this commitment."
If not for the past, these words would inspire supreme confidence , joy and trust from Louisville fans. For now, however, Card Nation remains cautiously optimistic ... at best. That's the thing about getting burned; you never fully get back to the state of mind you enjoyed before it happened.
The previous column appears in the current issue of The Voice-Tribune