The Sports Illustrated College Basketball Preview issue -- such as it is in a diminished state -- arrived a few days ago.
I was reminded of one of my favorite off the court accoutrements of Cardinal fandom, one of those moments that confirmed and strengthened my fealty.
Among others, there was the practice I got to attend as a ten year old, after which John Dromo presented me with a regulation leather ball. I played with it in the alleyways of my youth, always hitting the last second shot for a U of L W even if time needed to be extended. Eventually the roundball wore down to its rubber bladder.
There was the Atherton football game when my older brother and his teammates beat Male High for the first time, 6-2 in a pouring rainstorm at Maxwell Field. I was with my dad, a pal of his and future Cardinal great Don Goldstein, a star on the ‘59 Final Four team.
But what I thought of the other day was the similar day in the Fall of ‘74 when that year’s SI hoops issue came. The cover was a fold out, a great cartoon of the mascots of contenders for that upcoming season chasing after a Cardinal Bird, flying ahead of the pack.
”Louisville’s got the Cards,” it read.
UCLA’s title streak was intact, but the ‘zine went with the outlier on the uptick coached by Denny Crum in his fourth season at the helm, and led by Bridgeman and Murphy and Cox and Bond. They picked the Cardinals to win it all.
The vision of that cover brings chills to this day. (Did I save it? Of course not. But I did spend an inordinate amount of time tracking it down and converting it to a .jpeg to include here.)
The cover was a confirmation, the imprimatur of America’s leading sports magazine had been bestowed.
My beloved Cardinals were finally upper echelon.
Three national crowns and a bunch of Final Fours and conference crowns later, they have remained top shelf, more or less.
These days, sigh, are among the less. This year’s SI mentions the Cards but thrice. Asia Durr is #30 on a list of reasons to be pumped about the upcoming hoops season. (Indeed, I stand by my belief she is the purest shooter of any gender ever to don the red & black.) Chris Mack is mentioned #42 as one of three new coaching hires to watch. And the ladies are ranked #5 preseason.
And, alas, that’s all folks. Not a lotta dap comin’ the Cards’ way these days.
Headier times await. But patience must be summoned this campaign.
So, what can we expect from this thin, transitional ‘18-’19 edition of the University of Louisville Cardinal Men’s Basketball Team?
Tentativeness. There are completely new systems and philosophies at both ends of the court.
Inconsistency. The team is not deep, still relatively young, not transcendentally talented, and devoid of catalyst in the nature of, say, Preston Knowles or Peyton Siva.
Maybe Darius Perry’s in your face style on D can generate competitiveness. Maybe not. Let’s hope so.
More defensive rebounding. Less blocked shots and steals. It’s the Mackian Way.
Pack line defense. For me, the most interesting of the changes. Is this defensive philosophy still viable in an age when teams are stopping and firing at will from beyond the arc? Will this group get it?
Tilts against tough competition. A Denny Crumish schedule that is daunting to say the very least. Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and maybe Kansas, national contenders all. Plus IU, Michigan State, Seton Hall, UVa, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and maybe Marquette. As well as the usual ACC slog.
A .500 record against this slate would be boffo.
The character traits I hope to see, the ones that Mack and this edition of Cards can control: Maximum Effort. Steady improvement. This is a transition season, even more than last year. To expect more, it seems to me, is not fair.
If those attributes come about between now and March, I can accept whatever else happens. I hope the Red & Black Faithful feel the same. (And strive for that perfect attendance bonus discount.)
Not sure that I learned a whole lot from the exhis against Bellarmine and Simmons, the latter of which I was only able to watch the first half.
What/ who are the key components?
V.J. King, it is believed, is the most talented of the Cards. He’s also, so far anyway, the most tentative of the team leaders, most always hesitating before he busts a move. Coach Mack has mentioned it. Will King break on through to the aggressive? (Will that FBI insinuation be a distraction?)
Jordan Nwora. The forward does not lack for confidence. Will he allow the game to come to him -- to coin a phrase -- instead of forcing shots? Will he use his instincts to rebound and play D? Will he go 100% all the time, instead of falling prey to his propensity to lope?
Malik Williams. He likes to roam on the perimeter. Yet he’s shown flashes of heady instincts underneath and on the boards. Will he focus on those? Can he avoid foul trouble? One guy’s opinion, he could be the key to the season. He’s displayed some panache underneath in the exhis. If he turns into a force, U of L might exceed expectations.
Then maybe MW’s main man G Herbo will visit the locker room. “4 Minutes of Hell” to forty minutes of hell.
Khwan Fore. The former Spider showed some stuff -- a technical hoops term -- against Simmons. A couple of knock down treys. Went on the floor for a loose ball.
Ryan McMahon. Can he provide more than long range bombing? Will his D improve in the new pack line system?
Steven Enoch. He looked great in the scrimmages before last season, his sit out transfer year. The tallest guy on the floor, he was somewhat dominant in this year’s exhibitions. The Cardinals need a lot from him. Will he bring it?
Chris Mack. I believe he knows he’s not been dealt the strongest hand in Season I. Will he be able to wring the most from his flawed, undermanned squad?
The watchword for fans in ‘18-’19: Patience.
My hopes are realistic. I’m looking for hustle and feistiness.
A .500 record or better will satisfy.
-- Seedy K