I should start with that…sorry to anyone who likes my writing (might be two of you) or anyone who has missed it or wanted me to say more and I did not (probably the same two people…if not one of them).
I have had a LOT to say and most of it probably would not have been received in the manner you go to sports blogs to get. I have honestly been mad. Mad at the circumstances, mad at our local media, mad at ‘fans’ and boards of trustees, just mad.
The unfairness with which the Louisville situation has been handled is mind-numbing and staying silent has been hard, but easier than saying regrettable things. Not regrettable in the sense that I would say something bad but in the sense that the comments that would follow would not always be idea.
Hot take number one that I would reiterate and continue to preach…I love Coach Pitino. Forget coach, I know how great of a role model he tried to be. How he wanted to instill certain values in his players that led them to successful professional lives rather it be in basketball or somewhere away from the court like in business. I know from personal experience his generosity with his homeless shelter named after his child who passed away (Click Here) I have little doubt that he knew nothing of either incident because love him or hate him, he is strict to a fault and holds the game of basketball in such high esteem that the thought of him engaging in this stuff is laughable if it wasn’t so sad. If he had wanted to stoop to levels of other coaches, he would have been more into the one and done culture and 5 star prospects. If you think those players weren’t coming here and the coaching staff was high on them as priorities, you are misguided. Would they have welcomed them? Yes. Were they a priority? No. It is hard to teach a kid who is a superstar in his own mind the intricacies of a matchup zone. That kid knows EVERYTHING there is to know about basketball because they have been better than everyone else for so long. Rick Pitino is not just a coach, he is a teacher, and he wants players who he can teach the game. Players he can mold to love the game as much as he does while learning how to play and coach. There are no shortcuts on the road to true success and I honestly think he believes that. He took a Russ Smith and made him Russ Smith. Turned a soccer player from Senegal to an NBA player. He didn’t go after finished products, but opted for that table that just needs to be sanded and refinished. The craftsman working in his shed is not going to cheat the process to have a perfect looking table, they are going to present the one they labored over, blemishes and all.
I’ve been away to avoid talking about the world of college basketball. I recently saw a request I missed to comment on the UofL legal pieces. I never saw it, but I wouldn’t have wanted to anyway for one simple reason. This whole thing makes no sense and my opinion would not carry much weight anyway. Look at the way UofL has been vilified by the media, Coach P excoriated in articles and on tv. You might disagree morally with what happened with the parties, or the prospect of a company funneling money to a players parent, but that pales in comparison to what is going on around the country yet UofL is the bad guy. UofL has a ticker on ESPN. UofL is discussed as what is wrong with college sports…What happened here may have been bad…or it was a college party was not unlike many others around the country. What it was not, was a 2-decade academic scheme to create fake classes and degree programs to allow elite athletes to remain eligible to compete while not following NCAA guidelines. What happened at UofL was not a decade long cover up of sexual assault by a football and basketball program while failing to investigate claims against a team doctor. What happened at UofL was no the school looking the other way when programs had multiple players involved in sexual assaults, some even on the female athletes of other programs at that institution. I say that not to normalize what went on at UofL but to say that in the grand scheme of things it was not the big ordeal that media would make it out to be.
The FBI issue was a different level of insanity mixed with obsession. UofL somehow became the face of the probe despite not being named. Rick Pitino was quickly fired, and the architect of UofL dominance and the growth of the city of Louisville, Tom Jurich was quick to follow. Sure, don’t let facts get in the way of a narrative but it came out later that the explanation Pitino gave for contacting the guy at Adidas, trying to smooth out an issue with Rozier’s Adidas contract, was not only plausible, but very likely. UofL decided to fire and ask questions later. Pitino was 100% fired improperly and I expect him to collect some money and I honestly hope he does. Instead of following his contract, they made a snap decision when they could have given him notice and done it the right way and they probably would have still fired him, but they would have let facts come out. Arizona has Sean Miller ON TAPE and he keeps his job and gets support. At some point, it appears the wounds are self-inflicted and I did not know what to say about that.
That brings me to the coverage in general, both locally and nationally. Let the kids live a little bit. They have NOTHING to do with any of the madness yet it gets brought up all the time. Local media loves to bring it up for ratings. They say words like “sex scandal” and “FBI probe” to get you to be sure to click or tune in at 6:00. ESPN keeps a ticker and when you look up the FBI stuff, it always shows Pitino coming down the steps the day he was fired. They don’t show the coaches who were indicted or the named universities, they focus on who makes a splash and Coach 2 and University 6 is way more appealing than those lesser schools. The attention is flattering in a way. It shows that even in times of turmoil, we are still relevant because we are UofL. You don’t cover a school or city that ‘doesn’t exist’ and you don’t follow the trials and tribulations of a school that doesn’t matter. I do stay disappointed in how media handles all of this. The local media does not have to be cheerleaders for the local university, but at least pretend to like it sometimes. It would make this a little easier if the CJ, for one day a week even, could be a little more like the Herald for UK or if the news stations could highlight more of the positive going on at UofL because there is a ton. Way more positive than negative is going on, but you would not know that unless you investigate yourself.
One positive, that I stayed away from was the discussion of the future of the greatest quarterback, or football player, maybe athlete ever in the history of UofL. Lamar Jackson and his quest to go pro. I stayed away from this issue because it honestly makes me beyond upset. It makes me sad. Here you have a kid who has never been in trouble, who spends his free time helping out kids and those less fortunate. A kid who showed more joy on the field when his teammates were doing well than when he was breaking records and leaping over Syracuse players. A kid who is the definition of what you want in a player and person. He does everything you could ever ask of him, was on top of the field, and yet stayed humble throughout. After his season ended, he was finally allowed to do paid autograph sessions and what does he do? He donates the proceeds to a charity to feed kids who can’t get food. He sounds like the quarterback in a Disney movie, the guy everyone wants to be their friend and to lead their team, but that is not the case because he doesn’t look or sound a certain way. I don’t have to spell it out for you but you all know what it means when critics talk like that. Lamar Jackson had better stats than the top quarterbacks. His passer rating was higher, his efficiency is higher and his accuracy is higher. He can make all the throws you need of a quarterback and he is a winner. It didn’t matter…they then said he was too short to play QB even though he is taller than other “top” quarterbacks. He is basically the same size as cult hero Aaron Rodgers but with better ability. I wonder what the difference is? It makes me mad because I know too well what it is like trying to break into a profession or role held for people who look different than I do. Some people have to work two or three times as hard and be that much better just to get a CHANCE at what others can have without the qualifications. The Lamar QB vs WR debate is a microcosm of society and it is painful to discuss at times. I wish nothing but the best for Lamar, he is a great kid and a great player and will prove some doubters wrong and make some people feel pretty stupid.
Lastly, in my hibernation I was not able to discuss the slam dunk champion Donovan Mitchell. I want to end on Donovan Mitchell because he is the face of what UofL really is about. Donovan came to UofL as a good player but he needed to fine tune his game to get to the next level. He worked hard and he listened to his coaches and teachers and he got better. Donovan Mitchell is UofL because he continued to work through adversity, he smiled in the face of turmoil. He embodies the spirit many people in the UofL community have adopted of defiant optimism because he knows what this school is. He knows what this community is. He knows who he is. And that is what Louisville has to do right now…smile in the face of turmoil and dunk hard on those who try to tear you down.
Louisville is not scandals, we are Lamar Jackson, Teddy Bridgewater, Asia Durr, Donovan Mitchell, Brendan, Angel, Myisha, Kelsi, Mallory.
Louisville is happiness…Louisville is sideline Darius Perry, or the face on the opposing team’s bench when the Ladybirds perform.
Louisville has fight…Louisville is Ali.
Now back to hibernation..for a short time at least.