No matter who puts on a the red, white, and black jersey as a basketball player for the University of Louisville my favorite player will never change. To this day DeJuan Wheat is indisputably my favorite basketball player of all time. I remember going to the exhibition game against Puerto Rico his senior year. The game didn't count as far as the team record went, but I was still excited to be there. As I sat with my family in nearly the last row of the Freedom Hall stands I watched his every move for about five minutes. They took Wheat out of the game after that. I was so dissappointed. Later I found out he was pulled because he had a cut that needed stitches in his lip. I guess that was a valid reason, but my thirteen year old self felt like I was ripped off. That season I went to five more games because my family had a five game ticket package, but it didn't include senior night. And because DeJuan Wheat and Alvin Sims were so popular among the fans there last home game as Cardinals was sold out. My so-called friend Andrea got tickets though, but passed on inviting me. I wasn't popular and she wanted a more popular friend to take with her, dispite the face that my parents bought her a ticket to the end of the season basketball banquet. So I watched Wheat's last home game in front of the TV and not there clapping for him until my hands hurt like I should have been.
Then the was the sweet 16 game against Texas. Texas had a great guard in Reggie Freeman (I think that was his name), but we had Wheat - well until he sprained his ankle. Watching Wheat leave the game in Andrea's room in the attic of her house, everyone waited and hoped for his return. When Wheat finally appeared from the locker room his ankle was wrapped up so much, it was clear that there would be no more Wheat in this game. His career couldn't end like this was all that could think. Apparently the his teammates felt the same way and Alvin Sims led them to victory. As myself, Andrea, and our other friends ran outside to celebrate - WE ARE GOING TO THE ELITE EIGHT!!! - everyone counted Wheat out of the ensuing match up with North Carolina. This was the Carolina team that included Antwan Jamison, Vince Carter, and Brandon Haywood. We needed Wheat. And Megan - another friend - stated that her dad said Wheat would not play. I argued the opposite - he will play I stated as if I had just had a personal conversation with him. But I knew. I knew he would play. Two days later it was game day and Wheat was listed as a game time decision. But I still knew. I knew he would play. There would be no start for BJ Flynn, that was Wheat's spot. Sure enough when the game started number 32 was on the court. Sadly though even the presence of our best player wasn't enough to contend with the superstar power of the Tar Heels that year. I sat in my room watching the game on my small 13 inch TV by myself. In my lab sat my Cardinal media guide for the basketball team. It was if it was my basketball bible and I was praying, hoping that this would not be the last of DeJuan Wheat in my life.
The season was over, but I still had the basketball banquet to look forward to. I got their early to get autographs. Look there's Alex Sanders. Oh hey its Nate Johnson. No sign of DeJuan Wheat or Alvin Sims. As the banquet started I again felt ripped off as I told my mother I wanted a partial refund as the two best players weren't even here. Then the not shut doors opened and in walked Wheat. I was elated. After the banquet ended I stood in line to meet him. I got his autograph and took a picture with him. I still have that picture. Then that summer I watched him play in pick up games and got to meet Wheat and his fellow senior classmates again. And even after Wheat left and became a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves I got one more meeting with him at Cardinal Arena thanks to my sister and Wiley Brown. I felt so special - a private gathering with my favorite player just for me. I still have that picture from that day too. Along with an autographer #32 Louisville jersey that my parents have held captive in their basement area dedicated to Louisville memoribilia.
And even though it has been quite a while since DeJuan Wheat played for Louisville, my answer has never waivered if you ask me about my favorite player of all time. I was so excited to finally hear that Wheat was getting the recogniziation he finally deserved this year by the university. I have always advocated for his to be honored. It saddened me though that I couldn't be there to celebrate that moment.