Bouncing back the week after vacation is always a pain in the ass, but I’m finding that it’s doubly hard when you’re expecting a child in two months and you left for vacay already feeling woefully behind in the preparations on that front.
Basically, this is me making excuses for still having not weighed in on the billion things that seemed to happen last week. I will attempt (and fail) to rectify that now.
Louisville baseball’s week in Omaha
I’m not sure exactly what constitutes “getting over the hump in Omaha” (a pre-CWS talking point each of the last three times the Cards have made the trip), but winning multiple games for the first time and making the event’s de facto Final Four has to, at the very least, be a sizable step in that direction.
The 2019 trip to Omaha gave us a defining positive moment that will linger for a long time with the walk-off win over Mississippi State. It also gave us the flip side of that same coin with the 9th inning meltdown against Vandy and the ensuing Luke Smith debate that has by now been beaten 18 feet into the ground.
Dan McDonnell came on the radio show Monday and talked candidly for half an hour about all of this. To me, the most compelling comments he made came when he was asked about the decision to leave Smith in for the 9th inning.
In my eyes, it looked like Smith was laboring a little in the 8th, and I made it known on Twitter that I believed the right move was to hand the ball to closer Michael McAvene. McDonnell stated that without provocation, both Smith and catcher Henry Davis came over to him after the 8th inning and said that Luke was rolling and needed to stay in the game. McDonnell also cited a similar situation in the 2015 Super Regional against Cal State Fullerton when Josh Rogers got into it with an opposing player and things got tense between the two teams. Rogers was rolling, but McDonnell eventually lifted him in favor of lights out closer Zack Burdi, and the Cards wound up seeing their season end with a 4-3 loss.
Armed with all of that information, it’s not hard to see why McDonnell came to the decision he did. The criticism he’s received from some for leaving Smith in would be double had he lifted Smith and the Cards lost in a similar fashion.
You never want to play the “just wait until next year” card in the immediate aftermath of a gut-punch, season-ending loss ... but just wait until next year. Reid Detmers, Bobby Miller and Smith should comprise the most formidable weekend rotation in the country, Alex Binelas should be an ACC Player of the Year candidate as a sophomore, and there’s extreme experience returning at virtually every other spot on the field. The Cards will likely begin the season ranked somewhere in the top five, and should have a strong chance to still be playing in exactly 12 months.
Football recruiting/Chubba Purdy
Every time I glanced down at my phone last week, it seemed like Louisville Twitter was reacting to the announcement of a new football commitment. This, of course, hit an apex when four-star QB Chubba Purdy (CHUBBA PURDY!) pledged his allegiance to U of L at the end of the week. Major shouts to Keith Wynne for keeping tabs on all the madness over the past two weeks or so. There’s no way I would have been able to keep up without him.
A debate over just how significant this recruiting run is has become something of a subplot in its wake. When making an attempt to find that answer, I think some serious nuance is required.
Every coach of any major program or franchise that is looking at some form of a rebuild faces the same year one task: Provide the fan base with some tangible piece of evidence that things are going to be ok. You have to loudly communicate to your base that at some point in the (relatively) near future, their favorite team is going to be back competing at the level they expect it to. Sometimes the tangible evidence comes in the form of recruiting, sometimes it’s an overachieving first season, sometimes it’s something else or some combination of both (‘sup, Chris Mack?).
Scott Satterfield has won every press conference or media scrum he’s been a part of since December simply by speaking honestly and being discernibly not Bobby Petrino. Eventually, the fan credit for those types of things runs out. Typically that happens before the coach’s first game.
There was already some noticeable angst building amongst a small chunk of the fan base before this recent run on the recruiting trail. Had said recruiting run not taken place (or if that momentum stalls moving forward), Satterfield would have been placing himself in a position where his only avenue of showcasing his worth to this new fan base would have been overachieving on the field in 2019. Given the pieces he has at his disposal (and given what we saw a lot of those pieces do/not do last season), I think we’re all aware of how tall a task that’s going to be.
Some have already pointed to the fact that the bulk of the kids Louisville has committed to its 2020 class are three-star recruits with so-so offers and that the class likely won’t stay ranked in the nation’s top 30. Sure, we all hope to reach a point where we expect a little more from U of L football recruiting, but that’s been the case for like 35 years now.
The reality of the moment is that we’re coming off a historically bad season where our lone FBS win was by a field goal over the worst Western Kentucky team in at least a decade, and we have a new head coach who has never recruited at the power five level before and who is still a mystery to much of the football world. Getting a flood of three-star commitments (some with high-profile offers) and then a four-star quarterback resonates more right now with the fan base than it (hopefully) will three years from now.
The situations aren’t totally analogous, but I think there are parallels that can be drawn between what Satterfield is doing right now and what Mack did a year ago. When basketball commits started rolling in last summer, the excitement wasn’t originally over the stars they had or the overall ranking of the class, it was simply that fairly well-regarded prospects still wanted to come play for Louisville despite the negative air surrounding the program at the time. The point of convergence for that excitement changed a little bit when Aidan Igiehon committed and Samuell Williamson’s stock began to climb, but originally, it was a very basic, surface level enthusiasm.
That’s where I think the enthusiasm is with football right now, and that’s a more enviable spot than it was three weeks ago.
Bellarmine going Division-I
I worked for the Bellarmine communications department during the 2005-06 school year and the biggest project they worked on that year was the school’s “Vision 2020” campaign. Essentially, it was just a big list of stuff they wanted Bellarmine to have achieved by the year 2020. The biggest thing on the list that caught my eye was a desire to have all sports competing at the Division-I level by 2020.
It’s happening just under the wire, but it’s happening, and I’m very excited about it.
For those a little sketchy on the timeline, here’s how it’s going to play out:
2019-20: Bellarmine spends a final season as a member of the GLVC at the D-II level
2020-21: Bellarmine officially makes the leap to Division-I and joins the Atlantic Sun Conference.
2020-23: Bellarmine will spend three seasons competing in the Atlantic Sun, but will not be allowed to compete in NCAA championships like the NCAA tournament. The basketball programs will, however, be allowed to play in the Atlantic Sun tournaments, and if they qualified for the NIT, CBI or some other postseason tournament besides the Big Dance, they’d be allowed to play in that.
2023-24: Bellarmine becomes a full-fledged member of Division-I eligible to play in the NCAA tournament.
I recognize that this move isn’t just about basketball, but that sport is going to receive the lion’s share of attention here locally, and for good reason. Having a second team to root for during March (should you choose to go that route) should be awesome. In the Atlantic Sun tournament, the games are always played at the gym of the higher-seeded team. Getting to watch some postseason basketball at the newly-renovated Knights Hall during the first days of Championship Week could be pretty cool.
Seeing where this program is now compared to where it was for the first 22 or so years of my life is truly remarkable. Props to Scottie and the entire Davenport clan for getting the Knights to this point.
I didn’t get (badly) burned
Just wanted you guys to know this. Did the right thing and stayed mostly out of the sun until the last day. Decent burn on my left shoulder due to a sunscreen mishap, but nothing that’s going to ruin my life for the rest of the summer.
This is having experiences, learning from them, and changing behavior. This is growing up.
The biggest piece of Louisville basketball news from last week was Danielle Lerner’s report that freshman Josh Nickelberry is recovering from a broken hand that he suffered while playing a one-on-one game against fellow frosh Samuell Williamson. Nickelberry is only expected to be sidelined for a few weeks, but you still hate to see anyone kick off their college career with something like this. Better now than November, I suppose.
The other big story was Williamson’s tryout for the USA Basketball U19 team. A total of 33 players were invited to tryout. Williamson made the first cut down to 18, but did not make the final cut to 12.
Another notable name — former Trinity star and current U of L recruit Jay Scrubb — was also invited to the tryout, but did not make the first cut. Scrubb made more national news this week when his father told 247 Sports’ Evan Daniels that he and his son were at least considering a jump straight from junior college to the NBA after next season.
The last player to make this move? Former Oldham County High School star Donta Smith, who was set to play for the Cards before entering the 2004 draft. Smith was ultimately selected 34th overall by the Hawks.
The Jefferson/Oldham County-junior college-NBA pipeline has never been stronger.
UConn going back to the Big East
Every now and then it’s nice to have a reminder of just how fortunate we are that we didn’t get left in conference realignment purgatory. UConn announcing that they’re making the move back to the Big East with zero plan as far as what to do with their football program provided that reminder for all of us this week.
I don’t feel bad. Larry Taylor won’t let me feel bad.