On the rebound: 2013 Louisville Cardinals

Another look back at the 2013 NCAA basketball final. I still have confetti I collected at the end of the game in the Georgia Dome. Can’t wait for next season, but there are high hopes for the football team this year, already off to a 4-0 start. (Unfortunately, didn’t get any confetti at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans last January.)

Rick Pitino and the guys go to Washington

Is there a better way to cap off a great year for the University of Louisville sports program?

The Cardinals basketball team meets the president. They have a ceremony where politicians from both sides of the aisle are actually civil to one another. Obama gives a pretty good recap of the NCAA tournament, and Rick Pitino gives a speech praising the city and school he’s adopted.

All that’s missing?

The first lady …

And Russ Smith. Where is he anyway? (From NBC Sports):

Russdiculous is going international.

A preseason All-American and the leading scorer for the reigning national champs, Russ Smith has been named a member of the East Coast All-Stars, a 12-man team that left for Estonia to play in a tournament called the Four Nations Cup. …

He also won’t be in attendance as the Cardinals make a trip to the White House on Tuesday, which is actually a national tragedy: We won’t get a chance to see what happens when Russ Smith meets President Obama.

That would be a sight. Well, there’s always next year.


Hail to the chief and the Cards

This just in from Washington, D.C.:

Denny Crum and the University of Louisville basketball team met Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Ronald Reagan in 1986 following national championship runs.

Rick Pitino and this year’s Cardinals will do the same with President Barack Obama at 2:05 p.m. July 23.

The White House confirmed U of L’s visit, a university spokesperson announced Tuesday, and the Cardinals will be honored at the Rose Garden.

“It is truly one of the unique experiences in a young man’s life to go to the White House and meet the President of the United States,” the hall of fame coach Pitino said in a statement. “It’s not only a great honor, but our team will always remember that they got a chance to visit the White House, understand the logistics of how everything works and then meeting the President.”

Let’s see what this year’s Cardinals did the last time they met a president:


This can be very inspirational, or a disaster. I’m 99 percent sure it will be dignified. But with Russ Smith in the room, you never know what’s going to happen. Just remember, here’s what he did to his coach, Rick Pitino, on national TV:

David Stern makes me laugh

The NBA draft was funny.

I’ve never watched it before, but stuck with it to see where Gorgui Dieng of Louisville would go in the first round (picked by Utah, traded to Minnesota). That’s actually pretty good, because Rick Pitino‘s kid is now the head coach at the University of Minnesota, so Gorgui will at least have some “family” in the area. That’s confirmed by this tweet:

gorguiBut NBA Commissioner David Stern getting booed every time he walked out to announce the next pick was a riot. He egged the crowd on, saying things like “I can’t hear you.” Then he came out with these words of wisdom:

“We’ve had to explain to our international audience that the boo is an American sign of respect.”

I guess if I followed the NBA, I’d have known this was an inside joke. Stern is retiring after 30 years, and as he made his last pick, he got a standing ovation of sincere cheers by the crowd. And then, when he introduced his successor, the crowd booed the new guy.

Rick Pitino gets his national championship tattoo

So, Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said he would get a tattoo if the Cardinals won the national championship.

The Cards won. He got the tattoo:

Here’s the post-tattoo interview from the parlor on Bardstown Road in Louisville.

A Russdiculous decision

Louisville Cardinals basketball fans are elated because guard Russ Smith is going to return for his senior year.

Anyone who’s watched Russ knows he can do some amazing things with the basketball. (Look at all the games he led the team in points.) But we also know he can do some amazingly stupid things with the basketball. (Look at the five overtime loss against Notre Dame.) Russ seriously thought about entering the NBA draft, and I’m sure the general managers were looking at the stupid things.

I was at the national championship against Michigan in Atlanta game and screamed “No, Russ!” when Louisville was up by eight with 2:36 left and a fresh 35-second shot clock, and Russ put up a bad shot from beyond the three-point line. All he had to do was hold onto the ball, let the clock run down and set up a play for a better shot. I just kept thinking, “If Louisville loses, this is where it happened.”

Plus, I suspect he also didn’t want to leave Louisville after the disappointing game he had in the national championship. Only nine points, and lots of bad shots, including the one above.

The extra year under Coach Rick Pitino should add a lot more maturity to Russ’s game. And look at the team they’ll have. Three starters returning: Russ Smith, Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshire. The Final Four MVP Luke Hancock is back. Kevin Ware’s leg will be healed. Two departing starters, but Montrezl Harrell is back at forward or center, and a really good recruiting class is coming up.

And if things go right, Russ gets into his third Final Four, and has a chance to defend the national championship. Put it all together, and that makes him a definite first round draft choice in 2014.

In the meantime, let’s wallow in the 2013 victory, with Dick Vitale and the ESPN America feed out of the U.K.

Luke Hancock and Kevin Ware: Comfort amid pain

Along with millions of other college basketball fans, I was watching the Louisville/Duke game when Louisville guard Kevin Ware went down. I was at work, so it was a sequence of glimpsing the game while getting my job done. So I saw Ware go up to block the shot, but I didn’t see him land.

The next time I looked up at the screen, I saw a bunch of Louisville players on the floor, motionless.

Duke v Louisville

I saw a Duke player walking to his bench covering his face. And I saw people in the stands crying. I didn’t know what happened (no sound on the TV), but I knew it was something horrible. Then I saw coach Rick Pitino and players Russ Smith and Chane Behanan crying.

Uh oh. This is really bad.

When CBS went to the replay, I just knew I had to look away. I always do that when I know a gruesome injury is on the way. Then the camera showed Ware on the ground. His upper body was moving, so my first thought was, “He isn’t paralyzed.”

Then I saw one of the bravest things I ever saw at a sporting event.

Duke v Louisville

While everyone else was overwhelmed with grief, Luke Hancock, the Louisville guard/forward went to Ware, held his hand and comforted him while doctors worked on the shattered leg.

I wish I had that kind of bravery, to see a person with a horrific injury and be able to run to his side and keep him calm while the doctors did their work. But I know I don’t. Because I’ve been in this situation before.

About six to 10 years ago, when I lived in Belgium, my wife and I decided one day to get in the car and drive from Brussels to the coast. We had no particular destination in mind. We were just going to head west. So I got behind the wheel and drove along the highway and I saw a sign for Ghent, a historic medieval city in Flanders and decided, “well, might as well stop here and see what’s up.”

So we get off the highway and drove along the outskirts of town. We turned a corner, and there was a car stopped in the middle of the road, a broken motorcycle on the street and a group of people standing around a body.

We stopped, got out of the car and went over to see a man bleeding in the middle of the street. I don’t know how the accident happened. I don’t think anyone around us could have told us, because we didn’t speak Dutch, the language of Flanders. But the guy was bloody, in obvious pain, and no one was helping him.

And I didn’t know what to do.

But my wife simply went straight to the man’s side, got on the ground, placed his head in her lap, stroked his hair and spoke soothingly to him, telling him things were going to be all right. And she stayed there with him until an ambulance arrived, which seemed to take forever.

I just wasn’t able to do that. I didn’t go far from my wife’s side, but I just wasn’t able to get beyond my fear, and fear is what it was, to do what she did.

We don’t know what happened to that man on the street. The ambulance arrived and took him away. We got back in our car and drove to the coast. I think we went to Dunkirk. The rest of the day wasn’t memorable.

More than likely, the biker was hospitalized, healed, and back on his motorcycle riding through the streets of Ghent within a few months.

But you know, he probably remembers that when he was bloody, broken and in pain on the street, a woman he had never seen before and speaking a language he probably didn’t know, took his head in her lap, spoke softly and gave him comfort until help arrived. And chances are he wonders, did that really happen? Or was it just a dream? Some kind of religious angelic vision he had in his moment of suffering.

That incident was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw Luke Hancock beside Kevin Ware during a basketball game in Indianapolis, thousands of miles away from Ghent.

I’ve read a couple of poignant reactions to the Kevin Ware injury today. Bob Valvano, who does commentary for Louisville basketball games during the regular season had a moving Facebook post. You can read it here.

And on the site Card Chronicle, commenter Chick-Stratino’sUrDaddy, posted this tribute to the Cardinals and Luke Hancock.

They’re both worth reading.

The Final Four: Splendor in the bluegrass

There is nothing more important in Kentucky than basketball.

University of Louisville script "L" logo

University of Louisville logo

There. I’ve said it.

You can say, “Oh, no! There’s the Derby and bluegrass and bourbon.” But the Derby’s once a year and it doesn’t take much skill to look at bluegrass or drink bourbon. The residents of the state live for basketball, and this weekend, in the NCAA Division 1 men’s Final Four, the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky are going to have it out for a shot at the championship game, and more important, the designation as the state’s best basketball team.

The rivalry is like Ohio State-Michigan, or Army-Navy, without having to cross state lines.

If you take a statewide poll, an overwhelming majority are going to be rooting for UK. Mainly because they consider Louisville Sodom on the Ohio River. I’ll be rooting for Louisville because that’s home, now, and that’s where my son goes to school.

When I worked at the newspaper in Louisville (a lifetime ago), I remember the complaints we got during basketball season when we wrote about the teams. If Louisville story was an inch longer than the Kentucky story, fanatics would threaten to end their subscriptions because of our big city bias. If the Kentucky story was an inch longer than the Louisville story, fanatics would threaten to end their subscriptions because our managing editor was a UK graduate and was bias.

Folks, it didn’t matter. We were just trying to get the stories to fit on the pages.

The Washington Post sent a reporter out to Kentucky this week to capture the insanity. He wasn’t disappointed, coming up with this snippet of insanity:

These two schools don’t like each other. Never have. The game is still a couple of days away and tension is already heated. Local police, in fact, had to respond to a fight earlier this week — at a dialysis center, of all places.

“I didn’t talk to him about the ballgame,” one of the combatants explained to WKYT-TV. “I was talking to another guy about the game. He was meddling and told me to shut up and gave me the finger!”

Rick Pitino, the Louisville coach who actually won a national championship as UK’s coach back in 1996, said last week that if Kentucky loses, they’re going to have to build fences around bridges so people don’t jump off. John Calipari, the current Kentucky coach, said of his team’s fans:

“They are piranhas. . . . If you’re going to attack Kentucky, just be right. . . . I’m just telling you, piranha — womp, womp, womp,” he said, using his hands to bite the air in front of him. “They’ll come and eat your yard, your house, these people are nuts.”

UK Basketball logo, recreated in SVG format, u...

UK Basketball logo

This is one of those games where politicians have to weasel their way around, not directly answering questions on who they’re rooting for. Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson (the former Louisville mayor) are going to the game and one will sit with Kentucky fans and one will sit with Louisville fans for the first half, then they’ll switch seats in the second half. C’mon guys, take a side!

I remember years ago in New York, when the Yankees and the Mets met in the World Series, and politicians wore hats that had half Yankee symbols and half Met symbols. I admired Rudy Giuliani when he essentially said, screw the hat, I’m a Yankee fan.

That was a profile in courage.

Anyway, come Saturday, I’m going to be out of pocket for a couple of hours watching the game. And I’m not worried about fences over bridges.