A fan’s report: Behind the scenes in Puerto Rico

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David Burns is a big UofL fan just like the rest of us. I coach his son, Dawson, in basketball at Holy Cross High School. David, Dawson, and Whitney (David’s youngest girl) went down to Puerto Rico for a few days to watch the Cards in action. But while you are there, you have to do more than just watch basketball. When he asked me what he should write about, I said just make it all about your trip and what you experienced. Everyone else will have game recaps and write-ups, but nobody will have your own experience in a post. And so that is what he gave me. Enjoy!

By David Burns:

Puerto Rico

We visited several areas of the territory. We hiked, zip-lined, and rappelled through the rainforest. If you are in moderate physical shape…you should put one of these tours on your must-do list.

Puerto Rico

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We also visited a local hangout that was just a couple miles from the team hotel. Pinones is a local farmer’s market. There were many kiosks with local dishes and grocery items. We ordered several items to give them a try. We really didn’t know what we ordering. My 2 years of high school Spanish (from 30 years ago) was just too rusty.

It was all good, because Puerto Ricans apparently love to deep fry everything. The best part was that all three of us ate for $14! The piononos and the rellenos were our favorites. One was what tasted like beef wrapped in mashed potatoes and then deep fried. The other tasted like beef wrapped in some kind of fruit and then deep fried. Yummy!

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We also visited Castillo de San Felipe del Morro. It is a massive fort built on the beaches of Old San Juan. It was very impressive. This should also be on your must-do list. We first took a guided Jet ski tour around the fort. Puerto Rico is one of corners of the Bermuda Triangle…so yes…..we were jet skiing in the Bermuda Triangle! The ocean view of the fort was very intimidating. The very large exterior walls had cannon and gun ports looking down on you.

There were a bunch of starfish on the beach surrounding the fort. We then went inside and were amazed at the intricate detail in the planning and building of the fort. Every part was built with the sole purpose of defense. It was like Rick Pitino himself was somehow involved!

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Puerto Ricans seem to love Burger King and Walgreen’s. They were everywhere. Reminded me of Thornton’s in Louisville. There might be one across the street from each other. Speaking of gas. Gas was between .70-.81c a gallon! That’s not a typo……70 cents!

The legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18. I took my two youngest kids…18 and 14. My 18 year old had her first alcoholic drink. I know what you’re thinking. Shut up! She’s an angel!

Driving

I rented a car so we could leave at our convenience for games and could stop and take impromptu pit stops. Driving was very hectic. Puerto Ricans are some very aggressive drivers. You had to be one too or risk getting run over. The other issue was that the mapping apps on the Iphone and Galaxy were wrong. The names of the streets were sometimes different. Even the highway numbers were sometimes different. You had to ignore the audible directions and just follow the map. One thing I did like were the pedestrian crosswalks. They were large raised speed humps. You would bottom out if you went over them at more than 10 mph.

Team Hotel

The Ritz-Carlton was very nice. The rooms were nice with very large bathrooms and an Honor bar. The problem with the honor bar was that I took two teenagers. They are bottomless pits and this bar was chock full of teenager favorites like chips, candy and cokes. Those items were very pricy. The gummi bears were $10! A trip to Walgreen’s to stock up on midnight snacks saved the day and my budget.

The pool area and beach area were top notch. The restaurants were also top shelf. As with any high class tourist spot, the prices were “high class” also. The cheapest meal we had in the hotel was at the pool bar/restaurant. The three of us had sandwiches and cokes for $80. Now you know why I was so excited about that $14 meal.

One of the best things about the hotel was access to the players and coaches. They were on the beach, at the pool and walking around the hotel. Every player was more than willing to take photos or sign autographs. There was not an overwhelming number of fans at the hotel so they weren’t getting mobbed. They had more time to spend with you and they thanked you for coming to support them. You really can’t get a grasp on how big this team is until you are standing next to them. I’m an average size guy at 5’11”. I was a runt next to darn near all of them.

The Games

I won’t go into too much detail about the games. That’s all been covered by real sports writers. The games as you’ve heard were really physical. They made the old Big East games look like child’s play. There was pushing and blatant jersey grabbing on almost every play. Anas had a hard time holding his ground with such physical play. He was having trouble maintaining rebounding position when PR was shooting free throws. The hand checks were frequent and with much more force than you see in an NCAA game. Thankfully, that type of play won’t be allowed in NCAA games.

Speaking of refs, they were terrible. Pitino was incredibly upset with one of the refs in the Saturday night game. This particular ref was the one who made the most controversial calls. Most of them were charge calls on Louisville. When coach called him over for an explanation, his response did not sit well with coach. Pitino repeatedly yelled, “you don’t know the rules!”, “Read the rule book!”

I’m not a fan of bashing refs at all. I think it is the players and coaches job to adjust their play to how the refs are calling the game. However, these guys were very inconsistent and apparently didn’t know the rules!

The Gyms

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Let’s face it. We are spoiled. The KFC Yum! Center is one of the premier arenas in the country. These games were played in much smaller and older gyms than we are used to. They reminded me of some of our local high school gyms. At the game in Trujio Alto, there was no running water. Puerto Rico is dealing with a drought. Let’s just say that the bathrooms were ripe by the end of the game. However, the prices were awesome. $8 admission and very cheap concessions. We never spent more than $20 on concessions for the three of us. I wish we had that at the Yum!

Bompy

Bompy was the mascot for Puerto Rico. He was very good. I would love to see Louie use his Undertaker routine. At the end of the game when it appeared that Louisville had no chance for victory, during a timeout, Bompy put on a grim reaper cape and then slowly walked over by the Louisville bench with his head down. The theme music that WWE pro wrestler, The Undertaker used, was playing. He then looked up slowly, held up a Louisville sign and then gestured with the knife across the throat signal. The home crowd loved it.

I heard some talk that Pitino wanted to invite Bompy to the Yum. I don’t know if Coach was really serious. I hope he was.

Random Player Thoughts

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Damion Lee

He is a powerfully built young man. He is our undeniable go-to-guy. I was very impressed with him on and off the court. He is a leader on the court and a big cheerleader when he is on the bench. I couldn’t help but think in what-ifs after seeing him play. What if he played here last year? Final Four? Further? What if he played here for 4 years?

Donovan Mitchell

The one handed alley-oop was spectacular. Even the PR fans were clapping. It is obvious that he is an incredible athlete. I’m excited to see how much he uses it once he understands the system and role within it. He seemed a little unsure at times which isn’t unexpected for a freshman.

Deng Adel

I was extremely surprised to see how vocal Adel was. He was barking out defensive adjustments. We’ve all heard how complicated Pitino’s defenses are. We’ve heard how hard it is for freshmen to understand all the nuances. Adel was yelling to Lewis on one play to slide down. He was yelling out other calls with confidence. No coach ever corrected him so I assume he was giving the right calls. That’s really impressive from a freshman.

Big men and dunking

I sat directly behind the bench for Saturday’s game. I was more than happy to hear Pitino yelling at his big men to just “DUNK IT”. I know we’ve been spoiled the last couple years watching Montrezl dunk everything. But it just feels that our big men are a little timid around the hoop. Dunk opportunities appear to be there but they aren’t taking them.

Louisville First Cards Forever

From my behind the bench seats, I really got to witness the L1C4 mentality of this team. The whole team really cheered for each other and congratulated each other. When a Louisville player fell down, at least three Cards were headed their way to help them up. I’m really loving the team spirit of this year’s team.

But that L1C4 attitude didn’t stop with the players. At the Saturday game, the gym only had one guy to clean the floor. After a few players started slipping on the moisture, Louisville managers took it upon themselves to help clean the floor. And then Fred Hina stepped up and started taking care of the manager’s job by passing out water and towels to the players.

After the game, Coach Kenny Johnson made it a point to personally thank anybody wearing Louisville attire for supporting the team. He talked with my kids about their future plans. He offered advice and encouraged making a plan for the future you want. This wasn’t just small talk. This was a guy who seemed very sincere about helping kids. He had never met me or my kids before that night. It is very nice to know that a guy of that character is setting our players on the path to success whether that path leads to pro ball or not.

I am very happy that we decided to make this trip. We had a blast. After witnessing the L1C4 mentality firsthand, I am extremely proud to be a Card fan!

Go Cards!

-Dave

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