It is easy to get down on a team after a loss. Especially when you lose to your rival in such a close and emotional game. Forget that these are young men and that we as fans have literally nothing to do with the outcome of games (other than creating a good home atmosphere, sometimes). When you are as passionate about basketball as we are about our Louisville Cardinals, losses hurt, and they hurt bad. Now would be the easy time to be upset with them, right? Not me. Not with these guys. After two very close losses so far this season (on the road to good teams) and blowout wins against no competition, I can say something I never said last season: I love this team!
The picture above is a perfect example of why. Damion Lee just missed a shot that would have made his name remembered forever in the UofL-UK series. Freshman Donovan Mitchell had just sparked the comeback for the Cards that got them back in the game. Mitchell never was really an option on the final play. The young freshman could have hung his head at the buzzer. What did he do? He was the first to run over to Lee and console him.
“I just told him ‘you’re our leader,'” Mitchell said on his comments to Lee. “‘You, Trey, and Mangok are our leaders and we look to you, so don’t let that shot define you and what you’ve done this whole year, what you’ve done this game to get us to this point. Just use the anger that you have from this shot to tear up the rest of this year and do your thing.’ He’s here for one year. I know how much this year means to him and Trey as well. So just use this and just have the best year you’ve ever had in your entire life.”
Pretty big words from a 19 year old to his 23 year old teammate.
That is just the latest example of why the 2015-16 Louisville Cardinals are becoming one of the easiest teams to root for in recent memory. What I loved about the 2013 National Championship team was you had guys like Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng, Luke Hancock, and more that were just so easy to cheer for. You felt like you really knew them and that they were “Louisville men”. Not to dwell too much on negative stuff, but I personally never got that feeling with last year’s team. Just too much one-on-one basketball and flexing for my taste. Not my style.
From the moment Trey Lewis and Damion Lee got to campus, they instantly became leaders. Some around here may have been skeptical of that because they were “new guys” on our block, but that skeptical feeling has disappeared quicker than a 12 point Michigan lead in the National Championship with 3:02 remaining in the first half.
Ok ok, I couldn’t say that and then NOT put the video…
This team seems to really like each other. Trey Lewis is often the guy that gets the whole team together for movie outings. When V.J. King committed to the Cards, it was said that Lewis made sure all of the players texted King to say congratulations on his commitment. For someone to step into a brand new program with only one year to play and take that kind of leadership role, it speaks volumes of Lewis. It shows that he isn’t here to spend his one season promoting himself to try to make it to the next level. He knows that a successful TEAM will get him recognized.
Don’t overlook Damion Lee either. He obviously leads by example with how he plays. But think back to near the end of the Michigan State game. Donovan Mitchell committed a bad foul around half court to send the Spartans to the foul line. The first player to approach MItchell? Damion Lee. He looked to console him, as if to say “It’s all good man, don’t worry about it.” Hmm, kind of interesting when you look at the top photo and where this post started. Teammates helping each other. (On last year’s team, Mitchell probably gets yelled at from teammates)
Another awesome part of this team is the hometown flavor. Quentin Snider and Ray Spalding were household names while they were still in high school, playing for two of the best programs in the state in Ballard and Trinity, respectively.
Snider earned all kinds of respect last season down the stretch when he was thrown into the fire and helped lead the Cards to an Elite Eight. His ridiculous assist to turnover ratio (54 to 15 this year) gives UofL fans confidence that if nothing else, the ball will be taken care of. Spalding has shown flashes of the type of player we will see in the next couple of years, and that is a 6’10 versatile athlete that deflects everything and is a solid shot blocker.
Having two kids like that on the team from Louisville makes this team even more special. They grew up cheering for the Cards and now get to wear that UofL jersey. How cool is that?
We hate losses. We all do. But after both close losses this season, the consensus has seemed to be that yes we should have won that game, but this team is not done getting better and will be fun to watch as the season goes along. It makes the wins even better when you have a team full of guys that you genuinely enjoy cheering for. Every now and then, a team will come along and you cheer for them because they wear the University of Louisville jersey, and that is about the only reason. We have had a couple of those in the last 9-10 years.
This is NOT one of those years. Two tough losses, but I can say without a doubt that I still love this team!