Two weeks ago, the college basketball world was turned upside-down for a handful of schools. The FBI had uncovered 3 years of information into their investigation covering shoe companies, powerhouse division programs, and illegal benefits given to recruits. Some, like Arizona, Oklahoma State, USC, and Auburn, were named outright. Then, there were a few schools anonymously mentioned simply as “University 5” or “University 6”. Details were released about the anonymous schools, which led to speculation as to who those unnamed schools could be. “University 6” pretty obviously described the University of Louisville. We as fans knew that the description was frighteningly accurate, and while some of us (myself included) didn’t want to face the reality until it was confirmed, deep down, we all knew our beloved university was in turmoil, once again.
As we waited for some source of credible confirmation, Twitter and Facebook feeds filled with assumptions and jumped-to conclusions. Rationally thinking, my thought process was, “no way would our program be that irresponsible to try something so obviously wrong while on probation.” None of it made sense, but the writing was on the wall. As more information came to light, it became more and more abundantly clear that the UofL basketball program had put itself into a hole that even an “I had no idea” statement couldn’t get them out of it. When it was confirmed that Louisville was in fact “University 6”, the next questions that needed to be answered were, “who?” and “why?”. No way would Rick Pitino allow this to happen after being so adamantly against the monopoly shoe companies had on College Basketball. Our team was already set to be a top-10 team, why would we risk all of this just to add one player? It didn’t make sense, and it still doesn’t.
When UofL was confirmed to be in trouble, our hearts sank. As more and more information was released, our hearts broke. The hits just kept on coming. Talk shows flooded with calls that had become all too familiar over the past two years. “Did Rick know?”, has become a question that I wish I would never have to hear again. Whether Rick knew or not, didn’t matter this time (I’m not going to dive into that conversation because that’s not what this article is about), enough was enough for the Hall-Of-Fame Head Coach. The administration didn’t take long to take action, Rick Pitino was removed as coach and Tom Jurich was placed on paid Administrative leave. Pitino has since been fired, while Jurich remains on leave. Jordan Fair, the assistant coach named officially as Coach-1 in the FBI document, has been removed from the program. Assistant Coach Kenny Johnson, is also currently on Administrative leave, his future status is unknown. This left the Louisville Basketball program devoid of three coaches, including their Head Coach of 17 years, and without the Athletic Director that has taken the entire Athletic Department to heights never before reached. But, what most people had seemingly forgotten about, once again, our beloved players were in a situation that they had nothing to do with (except for one).
Players like, Quentin Snider, Anas Mahmoud, Deng Adel, and VJ King (who stood by his commitment amidst the first scandal) to name a few, were once again, wrongly engulfed in a horrible situation that they had nothing to do with. Sadly, for these players, this kind of story will be what the outside world thinks of when they think of the years they wore the Cardinal uniform. It started with Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. Two grad-transfers that just wanted to play and compete in their first and only NCAA Tournament of their college careers, chose Louisville and turned a young team into a contender by knocking off No. 1 UNC to open February. The next day, a scandal that they had nothing to do with surfaced on National news. Then a self-imposed Postseason Ban, took away the dream of two outstanding young men, all because of mistakes they had no part in making. Damion and Trey had started the mantra, “I’ve got your back”, before the season started, and when everything went wrong, they did the most admirable thing possible and stood by that motto. We, as fans, stood by it too.
Sadly, here we are again. Staring yet another scandal that the players (except 1) and the fans had nothing to do with. It’s right to express your frustration and disappointment, but the amount of people I’ve seen take away their loyalty and fandom for the program is not right. Don’t come back. The fans that have stood by the players that deserve our appreciation and support now more than ever, are the fans that have made this program so great.
The players asked for David Padgett to be named the interim head coach, interim-President Greg Postel did right by giving them that. That is a very small request from a group of young men that have been put through more trials and tribulations than most people will ever see in their life, especially those that were not caused by their own wrongdoing. The players shouldn’t have to ask for their fans to remain loyal to them, “I’ve got your back”, goes far beyond the boundaries of a basketball court. Reporters (I know just doing their job) swarmed their dorms, followed them to practice, incessantly questioned them about the situation and yet the players remained unified and strong. These are just college student-athletes, people need to remember that when shoving a camera in the face of a young man that just had his world turned upside-down.
As far as the basketball program goes, I couldn’t be more saddened by the actions of the coaches involved, but what I choose to focus my emotions on is how proud I am to support the players on the team. The players that have withstood the bulls*t caused by the greed and immaturity of those who were tasked with teaching morality and ethics first and basketball skills second. More is to be said about the resiliency of the guys suffering from others mistakes, than the guys who made those mistakes.
So, to the players, I am so sorry. I’m sorry that you walked into a buzzsaw a couple years ago and had to the price for the mistakes of those that came before you. I’m sorry that the men whose job it was to protect the purity of the game and guide you along your journey failed so miserably. Most of all, I’m sorry that your UofL career will forever be seen as the “scandal years” by those who do not see or understand the sacrifices you’ve made to fight for and stand by something that you love, despite the disappointment and heartbreak you have wrongfully suffered. However, I am also more proud of the group of players that have endured this tumultuous time, than I have ever been proud of a UofL sports team. I want to thank you for all that you’ve done, the message you have sent, and the maturity and selflessness you have shown throughout all of this. You have shown more class, honor, and love for the program than could ever be asked of you.
Make no mistake, Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino helped make this program great for many years. But, it has always been and will always be the players that make Louisville Basketball so loved and revered by us fans. This group of players will go down as the most beloved group in the history of the program, because no group has ever suffered and shown so much heart through it all, than this group has and will continue to this season. No one really knows what this will mean for Louisville Basketball in the long-term, but this season is approaching and now more than ever, we have to rally behind the players and David Padgett. Regardless of outcome, wins/losses, postseason success, this group will go down as the most respected and loved team in Louisville’s history, for me at least, for reasons that go far beyond the basketball court.
Fight on, Cardinals. As always, “I’ve Got Your Back.”