Finally, thankfully, the Cards hit the hardwood against guys other than themselves.
The scoreboard indicated a 37 point decimation of DII Wesleyan, a result of minor consequence.
The optics revealed more.
Despite disturbing defensive lapses against the overmatched Panthers, there was an encouraging fluidity at the offensive end.
Plus a sense of legitimate cohesion, which bodes well for this stressed-out squad's chances of success.
The stalwart stewardship of the team's trio of leaders is evident. But should not be surprising all matters considered. Anas Mahmoud. Deng Adel. And the homie Quentin Snider. Their histories have provided a bracing maturity, perspective and a solid foundation for this team's direction.
Mahmoud, from Egypt, an experienced traveler, understands political turmoil far more encompassing and life threatening than an athletic department in disarray. Adel, who with his family, escaping the chaos of homeland Sudan through Uganda, eventually to the relative calm of Australia then to the States, understands there are more important matters in life than improving his ball handling. Q, bearing the weight of his town, longed to be a Cardinal, felt rejected, looked elsewhere, then persevered.
So, beyond the Xs and 0s and whether this group is quick enough of foot to play man to man, last night's first foray provided more than mere hints, but actual empirical evidence that this team will give its all amid the adversity surrounding the program.
That's what I was looking for last night.
Also, of course, what it will look like on the sidelines, with David Padgett and a new crew of assistants in charge? How things will be handled for the first Cardinal game without a Hall of Famer in charge since March 20, 1971, 1521 games ago. (Other than a couple tilts when Denny Crum was sidelined with his annual bronchial malaise -- or coached over the phone as he did once against UCLA -- and Rick Pitino's mysterious medical leave of absence for a few days one season.)
Different it was on the bench, for absolute sure. Encouraging, most definitely. The latter of which we observed from the head coach more than his predecessor for an entire campaign. Applauding appreciatively for plays well made. Giving Jo Griffin, a walk on, early minutes off the bench for busting his butt in practice and scrimmages.
Greg Paulus, whose intensity is palpable, and Trent Johnson actually stood and shouted instructions while there was action on the court.
Oh my, what a revelation each encounter ahead is going to be.
It's fresh, It's exciting. It's a breath of fresh air.
* * * * *
Of course, I didn't like that U of L gave up way way way too many layups, allowing the visitors to can 61% of their FG attempts in the opening stanza. Working on the defense is Job #1.
Nor was I pleased that the shorter, slower visitors outrebounded the Cards before the break.
What did please me: How Darius Perry sees the court. Dwayne Sutton's engine and shooting. That Jordan Nwora hit the boards even though he left his shooting eye back in the dorm. That VJ King didn't force matters. Ray Spalding's intensity. And that sense of cohesion I referenced above.
I/ we must remember: There's a long way to go. The regular season is still a couple weeks away.
* * * * *
What was dispiriting was the disappointing size of the crowd. Announced as 14,818, it was surely many less than that.
I understand it's an exhibition game. On a blustery Monday night. On TV.
I also know that every Cardinal fan has the right to deal as they choose with their anger, confusion, displeasure, whatever with Jurich's and Pitino's firing. And that some fans who truly love U of L hoops were priced out of tickets years ago.
But my hope, which I've expressed before, is that support comes forth now more than ever.
I've been searching for an analogy to the situation, a way to suggest that U of L basketball, Cardinal sports, is more than Jurich or Pitino or Ramsey or Postel or Grissom or Bevin. Or, frankly, this group of kids.
It's about the city and U of L athletics importance. It's about years and decades and lifetimes for some of us, living and dying with the fortunes of the Red & Black. L1C4 is just a branding tool, it all goes deeper than a slogan.
To get a bit philosophical on you, love of U of L sports is like Buckminister Fuller's "pattern integrity." It's the program, the allegiance, the bonding with fellow fans, the history and tradition, the experience of the games and arguing about the games and performance that is the center.
Players and coaches come and go, they become beloved or forgotten, but remain part of the whole, part of the pattern that is U of L basketball. There are the wins and losses, but those too are but attributes of the resonance of fandom we have chosen.
Louisville basketball has been around a long time. It shall persevere and prosper in the future.
What we have now, and hope we who love Cardinal hoops support to the fullest, is the 2017-18 Louisville Cardinals, under the tutelage of David Padgett and strong team leaders.
We owe our allegiance to ourselves as well as to them.
If you're prone to argue whether Jerry King or Milt Wagner hit more big FTs when it mattered, if you believe Peyton Siva was a better point guard than Philip Bond, who is your pal's choice, if you love Wes Unseld as much as your daughter loves Gorgui Deng, it's time double down.
OK, I've stepped down from the soapbox.
Next: Bellarmine on Tuesday the 7th.
-- Seedy K