Coming back home after an extended vacation always feels a bit like how I imagine it would feel to come back from the dead or out of a multi-week coma. We’re all aware that the world is going to keep going on relatively unaffected after we’re gone, but to see it with your own eyes is a bit disorienting. Also you stumble around and squint a lot for the first 24 hours.
Going to Ireland was something that I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember, and the experience was everything I was hoping it’d be. While that was happening, nine days also came and went here in Louisville, and a number of significant events took place.
Here’s as close to a brief recap of my thoughts on the past week as I can come.
Brian Bowen is a Cardinal
The story of Brian Bowen signing with Louisville is strange only because we’ve never seen something like it before in the Pitino era.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably wondered why this hasn’t happened before. A 5-star kid finds himself as the top un-signed prospect in the country, looks around, and chooses to sign with a powerhouse program that has an open scholarship even though they haven’t been on his list in like two years. Louisville offers things that only a handful of other programs can: A winning tradition both far-reaching and recent, a high-profile stage, access to the top conference in America, a Hall of Fame coach, a rabid fan base, and among the best facilities in the country.
The fact that more recruits haven’t made the same “surprising” decision that Bowen did at the 11th hour has been something I’ve never been able to understand. It also lulled me, and I think the rest of the fan base, into a sense that it never would happen, which helped make the events of last week all the more stunning.
Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this entire thing is that Bowen is a 6’7 wing who is built exactly like Louisville’s best player, Deng Adel, and perhaps it’s most naturally gifted one, V.J. King. If Bowen swerved Michigan State strictly because Miles Bridges was returning and Arizona because Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins were, this seems like a strange landing spot.
What excites me the most about the addition of Bowen, is that I think he has the best chance of anyone on the roster at stepping in and capably holding down the two spot. I know Rick Pitino has seemingly already handed that role to Adel, but the staff has been wanting Deng to be a better ball-handler than he is for two years now (see: attempting to play him and not Tony Hicks at the point against Florida State and Louisville falling into a 14-0 hole). Now maybe Adel improves enough in that area this summer to hold down the spot effectively. It’s certainly possible. But if he doesn’t, U of L now has a very, very strong option to go with.
The drastically different lineups and the early season rotations with this team are going to be fascinating. I will fully admit to being way more down than most on the prospects of 2017-18 after Donovan Mitchell’s announcement, but this is a significant jolt of life.
Also, if we would have lost out on Bowen to DePaul I would have just stayed in Ireland.
Calvin Pryor to the Browns
For whatever reason, Pryor just wasn’t working out with the Jets, so it’s nice to see him get something of a fresh start. It is somewhat troubling, however, that this fresh start is coming with the franchise where careers often go to die.
Here’s hoping the best for The Louisville Slugger in Cleveland.
Louisville baseball off to the supers ... again
I feel way less than confident heading into this year’s super regional than I did the past two years. Given the way those series played out, maybe the shift in mentality is a good thing for the Cards’ chances.
Louisville got a pretty favorable regional draw with three teams who didn’t seem to pose a legitimate threat to their chances of making a fifth straight super. Although the Cards improved to 15-0 in regional play over the last five seasons (an absurd stat), they were only overly impressive on Saturday when Brendan McKay kept Oklahoma at bay and the bats lit up the scoreboard for 11 runs.
Kade McClure’s struggled on Friday were a bit troubling, but not as troubling as the struggles of Drew Ellis and McKay at the plate. The good news is that U of L went 3-0 despite these issues. The bad news is that three of the biggest keys to Louisville’s postseason success aren’t rolling into the supers with a great deal of confidence.
It’ll be interesting to see if McDonnell goes back to McKay — the Friday starter all season long — for game one. It’s the safe play (McKay started game one of the supers last year), but if the series is set for Fri-Sat-Sun, then McKay would be pitching a day earlier than usual and McClure would be going over a week between starts. I don’t think either of those things are big deals, but this is baseball, and every little aspect must be over-analyzed.
The Dream Series
A three-game series between Louisville-Kentucky with a trip to Omaha and the College World Series on the line would be a spectacle the likes of which Jim Patterson has never seen. The original super regional in ‘07 was crazy because it was new, and there have been other enormous moments inside the stadium over the decade that has transpired since (like the Cards beating the Cats in the 2014 regional), but nothing like this.
The rivalry angle is obvious, but there are a number of other storylines at play here that would make this unreal.
For Kentucky, you’ve got a program that has seemingly been on the verge of becoming a national mainstay for a while, but has still never made it out of the regional round of the NCAA tournament. The fan base hasn’t quite embraced baseball the way Louisville fans have because they haven’t yet had that 2007 moment that U of L did. A first-year head coach taking the Cats to Omaha by knocking off their favored arch-rivals on their home field would certainly do the trick.
For Louisville, the risk is higher than just being dealt a crushing defeat by your hated arch-rivals. The Cards love being the only program in the country to make it to the super regionals in each of the last five years. They don’t love being the only national seed to be upset in that round in each of the last two years. Adding a third year to that would be brutal. It would also give strength to the “yeah but they can’t get it done when it matters most” movement and detract from the previously unfathomable period of success that the program is currently in the middle of. That would be very unfortunate.
Of course the Cats have to make it that far first. They play NC State tonight at 7 in a winner-take-all regional final on ESPN3. Louisville took two of three from the Wolfpack in Raleigh back in late March.
The Irish on sports
I would like to write more extensively about my experience abroad at some point, but I won’t bore you too much with it now. Instead, here are five quick, sports-related hitters via the Emerald Isle.
1. They just assume that we all love baseball, and they HATE baseball. Behind our current president, baseball was easily the biggest complaint the Irish voiced about life in the States. They maintain that it’s actually a pre-existing sport called “rounders,” and that when they’ve tried to watch it in the past, all they’ve seen is “a bunch of fat f—-s doin’ a whole lotta standin’ around.”
2. While they believe that rugby is a superior game, they do still enjoy and know a surprising amount about American football. I was walking around late on our last night in Dublin wearing a Louisville hat with the Cardinal bird on the front and a guy came up to me and just started talking about how the Arizona Cardinals need to get rid of Carson Palmer if they want to be a real contender. When I let him know that I am actually a Lions fan, he expressed the same degree of concern that I’ve known for 30 years in America.
3. Ireland is going to qualify for the World Cup. Of this they are extremely confident — “Feckin’ right. Top ‘a the table. Look it up.” The Irish are currently tied with Serbia at the top of Group D in UEFA qualifying. They play Austria this Saturday at Aviva Stadium, which we stayed right across from during our first two nights in Dublin.
I was really hoping there would be a qualifier while we were in town, but we did get to experience life after the Celtic League rugby final, which took place at Aviva the first night we were in town. Scarlets from Wales destroyed Ireland’s Munster and there was much rejoicing amongst the Welsh afterward. It was cool.
4. The Thierry Henry handball that cheated Ireland out of the 2010 World Cup is still a very, very sore subject. Understandably so. It would be like Kentucky keeping Louisville out of the College Football Playoff via a last second touchdown that replay clearly showed was actually dropped. And yet the Irish persevere.
5. A local highlight show in Killarney showed clips from all the various matches around the Gaelic football league. The stadiums are relatively tiny, but the crowds are f—-ing insane. Cork City F.C. scoring four goals in 15 minutes caused a reaction that nearly resulted in the Southern fourth of the country breaking off from the rest of the island.
Regardless of how enjoyable an experience away is, I’m just about always ready to get back into a normal swing of things after a week. Such is the case here. The week ahead figures to be an enjoyable one, as does the entire summer leading up to what could be a very special 2017-18 season around here. I’m excited to go through it with you guys on here.