Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Louisville Cardinals - Story Round Up

Check out this story from the Associated Press on Chane Behanan. Usually my favorite player on the team ends up being a guard - DeJuan Wheat, Marques Maybin, Cameron Murray, Taquan Dean, etc. this year I think it's Chane Behanan. Don't get me wrong I'm a huge fan of everyone on the team especially the guards, but I think Behanan has so much potential and said from the beginning that as he matures and plays more he will improve so much. He has been a great rebounder, but now it seems like his scoring ability is starting to show more.

And check out this story about Gorgui Dieng from Eric Crawford of The Courier-Journal. I love these type of human interest stories about athletes. So many people we praise for their talents on the court, often have far more meaningful goals and lives away from the sport.|newswell|text|Sports|s

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chris Smith - We Want Kentucky

Watch this interview with senior guard Chris Smith after Louisville's win over Florida, taking the cardinals to the Final Four. Chris is a true ball player - he wants to face the best even if that means facing Louisville's biggest rival. WE WANT KENTUCKY!


When I was younger my dad decorated my room at our lake house with a University of Louisville theme. The walls were red and white and he hung a poster up with a cardinal bird celebrating the 1986 championship where Louisville beat Duke. As he hung it up I asked him if I was watching the game. I would have been about two and half years old and being the biggest fan of the team growing up it was important to me to know that I was watching it even if I couldn't remember it. Perhaps that would be the only final four we would get to in my lifetime and I wanted to believe I was somehow a part of it. I never got a direct answer to this question though, all my dad said in response was "Were you even born then?"

I like to think that I was watching that game though, but if not the closest I had come to witnessing a trip to the Final Four at that point was a trip to the Elite Eight led by my beloved and all-time favorite player DeJuan Wheat when I was 13 years old. I was crushed he didn't make it as I sat with the team media guide in my lap as if it had some answer that I needed to communicate through the TV for them to beat a Vince Carter and Antwan Jamison led North Carolina team. I knew that media guide backwards and forwards, but I was just a fan and there was nothing I could do to will my team to victory. Next year, maybe next year I thought.

But after Wheat graduated, the team seemed to take a turn for the worst. I still loved them, I still believed, but the numbers weren't there and at times the NCAA tournament didn't even look like a possibility, let alone the Final Four. Then Coach Crum retired and Rick Pitino was hired. There were some difficult feelings about his hiring. He had coached for that other team in the state down I-64. He had been a wildcat. How could he ever be a cardinal? But it didn't take for me long to embrace him. He seemed like a different coach at Louisville, perhaps his stint with the ego-filled NBA players had given him a fresh perspective on what it truly means to be a college coach. Suddenly his days of leading the blue and white were gone - he is the leader of the Cardinals and is a great leader at that. Given his track record for greatness it seemed like a run at the National Championship was on the horizon. However, it didn't happen right away. I made it through college without ever seeing a Louisville uniform on the court of the Final Four.

Then at a time when school should come first and being a fan second it happened. I was in my first year of law school at Tulane when I sat in my apartment in the graduate housing engrossed in a battle between Louisville and West Virginia. And when the game ended we stood as the victor and I was on the phone with my parents planning our trip to St. Louis. Somethings don't happen too often, Constitutional Law happened twice a week - it could wait.

I searched online for tickets and the most affordable I could find was $430. The ticket included the Final Four and the championship game. We purchased them through a ticket broker site - And I headed back to Kentucky to drive with my family to St. Louis. We had to get a hotel in Illinois - everything around St. Louis was booked. Once there we had to arrange a meeting with the ticket broker for hand delivery of the tickets. It felt slightly awkward and uneasy, but turned out to go smoothly. Once the tickets were in hand everyone grew excited. And once in the arena we realized that our seats were not going to be great. The Final Four was in a football dome and we were so far up the court and players looked so small. I sat with my two younger cousins and my aunt, while my parents sat in another area. It didn't phase me though as to how far we were - I just felt fortunate to be there. And then Illinois stopped the excitement by sending us home. North Carolina was led by Sean May and Raymond Felton to become National Champions that year. I went back to school a couple days later, after I started feeling better from the cold I had picked up somewhere along the way. I shouldn't have probably missed school, but honestly I don't regret it. The only C I got in my life was in Constitutional Law (to be fair I got a C briefly as a quarter grade in social studies once in like the 3rd or 4th grade but quarter grades really didn't count and I'm sure I finished with an A) and I'm okay with that (most of the time). And the C was probably more of a result of me skipping class to work on my appellate brief rather than missing a day or two for the Final Four. I had been a great student my whole life - I deserved a break for once. And to be fair to myself I did graduate law school cum laude But I digress...

And now about 6 years later the Cardinals did what at times this year and even in yesterday's game seemed unlikely - they punched their ticket to another Final Four. I scheduled my day yesterday around being home to watch the game. I'm fairly superstitious at times while watching, so if I was doing something and they went on a run I tried to keep doing that until the run stopped. There were even points of the game that I couldn't watch. I walked to the bathroom to get ready for dinner later that night and heard what sounded like positive things for Louisville going on in the background. Until I heard Peyton Siva had picked up his fifth and final foul. I didn't know how much time was left. I was concerned to hear that Siva was out, which meant that Russ Smith (or as I found myself calling him Russy yesterday while screaming at my TV at him) was the point guard the rest of the way. Russ is great at times and out of control at others. He usually makes me nervous when he is in the game as the point guard, but he stepped it up when needed and lead the team with points in yesterday's victory over Florida. And Chane Behanan was just great down the stretch. He was poised and avoid getting his fifth foul. He gave us the lead. In a team where Chris Smith, Kyle Kuric, and Peyton Siva our often seen as the leaders on and off the floor, the final minutes of this game were controlled by a sophomore and freshman. And at the end everyone was smiling and Peyton knew that his season wasn't going to end while on the bench watching.

I'm still a little in shock that Louisville won yesterday. I think the team is in shock too a little. Florida shot lights out from the three point line in the first half yesterday. The looked unstoppable at times. But Louisville has always been a second half team. They have always been a team of runs. And they had there big run right when it's the most important - at the end.

Chane Behanan was named West Regional MVP and rightly so. He put up 15 and 17 points in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. He is a power inside when it comes to rebounding. He is just a freshman. Russ Smith is instant offense. I love when the commentators say that he hasn't met a shot he didn't like. He is learning to play more controlled and is allowing Peyton some time to rest at points in the game. Pitino says he is the teams best one-on-one player. Not to mention I love the kid because he is a New York City kid from Brooklyn. He is just a sophomore. Chris Smith can't play a game without some commentator mentioning his brother JR Smith. He doesn't seem to be too vocal, he has a humble personality. He can get hot and make some offense happen. He is a leader. Yesterday after they cut down the nets he wore one around his neck. In an interview a reporter stated that he was sure Chris had some really expensive necklaces and then asked how the one he wore now compared to those. He seemed to indicate he preferred the net more (he did confirm though that he had expensive necklaces). He is a senior, this is his last shot at winning a championship. Kyle Kuric leads the team in scoring. He is the best three point and foul shooter on the team. He is poised. He too is leader. Pitino said he gathered the guys together at some point in instilled in them that they were still in the game yesterday. He too is a senior, this is his last shot at a championship. Gorgui Dieng is a a force inside. He is an amazing shot blocker - maybe the best I've seen to put on a Louisville jersey since Samaki Walker. He has an amazing basketball IQ. Also apparently he can knock down the three pointer - he hit his first one in the Sweet Sixteen. He is a sophomore. And then there are the guys who step in when needed, especially yesterday when the fouls seemed to be a little one sided. Or the guys that have become sideline coaches and cheerleaders due to season ending injuries. Angel Nunez, Rakeem Buckles, Zach Price, Jared Swopshire, Elisha Justice, Kevin Ware, Mike Marra, Wayne Blackshear, and Stephan Van Treese (I apologize if I left anyone off). And then last but not least there is Peyton Siva. Every team has a heart and soul and Peyton is ours. You can see every ounce of emotion in his eyes. Peyton may not be the best point guard in the country, but he wills himself to completely give of every ability he has when on the court. When he fouled out yesterday instead of whining or complaining, Russ said Peyton calmed him down and encouraged him that he could lead the team on the floor. There is no rivalry - no one is fighting for the spotlight. It's Peyton's team to lead on the floor, and when he goes down it's Russ next in line. This team is not one of superstars, although it definitely has talent. I'm not sure if these guys have NBA futures, but they have college basketball's holy grail before them and they are going as a team. They do not have a roster of one and done college athletes. They do not have a roster of names that are mentioned every day in the press. They have a cohesive unit that respects one another, that plays well together, and that are always learning even through the course of the game. Pitino said on SportsCenter that he told Chane they couldn't win with the way he was playing defense. Chane looked him in the eyes and said it won't happen again - and then Chane became the MVP. A great team, a great coach, another Final Four trip and perhaps more this time.

I sadly won't be going to the Final Four in New Orleans. No longer a student, I have actual adult responsibilities that say spending that much money on a ticket isn't in my budget. Not to mention I have issues with ever stepping foot in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. It's funny that the last time Louisville went to the Final Four I was actually living in New Orleans, and now they are going there for it. I have a lot of respect for the city and wish it the best in its ever still recovering state, but after I left due to Hurricane Katrina I've only been back once to get my belongings. People love it down there, but I'm not sure I can bring myself to go back. But I will be routing from New York for my cardinals and hoping for the best.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Big East Champs!

The other night Louisville won their second Big East Championship in four years and I was lucky enough to be in attendance. A life long Louisville fan and new resident of New York couldn't have asked for a better first experience at the Big East Tournament. I had been wanting to go to this event since the Cardinals joined the Big East and I relocated back to the East Coast to finish law school. However, it never seemed like I had the finances to make the trip to New York from Washington, DC and buy the tickets to attend. However, last year on the day Louisville would meet UCONN in the finals of the Big East I found myself wandering the streets of New York in not such high spirits. I came up here for the day to look at one apartment in Chelsea. I was hoping to see more, but they fell through. I felt like I was essentially wasting my time and energy with this trip, I believe it was my third time up to search the city for a place to call home. My lease in Maryland ended on April 2nd. It was almost half way through March, and I was scared that I wouldn't have a place to live on April 3rd. Not only was I concerned about my living situation, I was deeply concerned about my finances. I was unemployed for the first time in three and half years. I do contract legal work and my last assignment that seemed like it may last forever finally came to a close and now I was awaiting a new one. Although I was hopeful to begin working again in the next week, the new job meant less money and less hours. Here I was trying to move to one of the most expensive cities around - a pay cut just didn't work for my plan.

Trying to not get discouraged I made my way over to Chelsea, just a little south of wear my Cardinals would take the floor later that day against the Huskies. The apartment was small and cute, but not for me. What a waste of a trip I thought to myself as I tried to figure out what to do with he rest of the time I was in New York. That's when it occurred to me that I could go to the game and then this trip to New York would be so worth it. I walked into the Madison Square Garden box office and never made it to the ticket window. I overheard $90 tickets for upper level seats and paced for a few minutes before I walked out. My friend offered to lend me the money and apart of me just wanted to go to escape the present stress in my life. But I wasn't the same person I was a few years ago. I resisted impulse purchases more and knew that spending $90 on a ticket that wasn't a necessity right now was irresponsible. I walked away from Madison Square Garden disappointed that I was going to miss Louisville playing in the finals of an event I'd had been wanting to go to. I kept telling myself that I'll move to New York and will be able to go to the tournament next year. I got on the bus, headed south, and got home in time to watch Louisville lose to UCONN. UCONN went on to win 6 more games in a row to become the National Champions.

A week later I found an apartment and on April 2nd I left what had been my home for quite some time behind and started a new life in New York. And this year when the Big East tournament came around I kept the promise I made to myself the prior year when I felt like I may have missed out on a great experience, and bought a ticket to the first game Louisville played in the tournament. I told myself I would go to the first game, maybe the semi-finals, and definitely the finals if they made it. At the first game I was grateful to be there and even more grateful they pulled out a victory over Seton Hall, but it wasn't an exciting game. I couldn't watch the quarterfinals and couldn't afford to go to the semi-finals. Thanks to Syracuse's presence in the semi-finals the ticket prices were just too much for me, so I found myself doing something I don't believe I've ever done - cheer for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Cincinnati has been a rival of ours as long as I can remember. We played against them in the Metro Conference and Conference USA. Then we both made the upgrade to the Big East at the same time. As I walked home from the subway I checked the score on my phone - the game couldn't end quick enough and of course conveniently my phone's Internet couldn't move quick enough as well. Finally I see the word "Final" and look at the score. The first part of what I needed to happen did - Syracuse lost. I knew if Louisville could pull out win a Cincinnati v. Louisville final game would be affordable for my budget. So I went home and watched the game, nervous as ever for my team. Then as they started to pull away in the second half I went online to purchase my ticket. My first ticket purchase didn't go so well so around 11 AM on the day of the championship game I had to cancel my ticket. Then I went searching through Stubhub for a new ticket. I knew I wanted to sit as close as possible and was lucky enough to find a seat available in section 2 on the floor behind the basket. I could hardly focus all day. It almost felt like I was child again - getting excited before I ventured off to Freedom Hall to see the Cardinals play. I have been to a lot of great games - beating Kentucky, beating UNC, winning the Conference USA tournament at Freedom Hall, and even our last appearance in the Final Four. But there is something special about Big East basketball (until next year thanks to college football when the league loses some great teams)and playing in Madison Square Garden. I went to a Louisville basketball game earlier this year in MSG, but the atmosphere wasn't like the college basketball atmosphere I was used to back in Louisville. I knew this finals match up though would be different. Louisville and Cincinnati are both college basketball towns and I knew the arena would be filled with people ready to support their teams. I got to MSG a little early and watched the Cincinnati band perform for a bit outside. Then as I waited for them to allow people into the stands I watched and tried to pick out fellow Louisville fans. I quickly recognized our point guard's father and saw people approach him with what I would guess would be congratulations and kind words about his son Peyton Siva. I even saw one couple go up and have their picture taken with Siva's dad. Now I have seen many players in Louisville become famous in the city, but Siva seems to have reached a whole new level of fame when his fans want pictures with his father.

After about twenty minutes or so of waiting finally we were allowed into the arena. I had some time to kill before the game tipped off so I went and found my seat and walked around. I game back in to watch some of the pregame warm ups and of course the announcing of the lineups. I cheered with my fellow Louisville fans as loud as a could, clapping as hard as a could. The game was nerve racking to say the least. There were moments when I buried my face into my hands thinking please don't blow this, its almost over. There were moments when all I could think was why is Russ Smith in the game right now, followed shortly by cheering "Come on Russ make the free throws!" There were moments when I couldn't help but jump up out of my chair and applaud the effort from my team like the old fashioned three point play by Chane Behanan, after which he turned to the crowd behind the basket - the basket I was sitting behind - and screamed. You have to appreciate the effort and enthusiasm as a fan. There was the moments I held my breath as Chris Smith came crashing down on the hardwood court or as Peyton got mulled falling out of bounds by a guy who seemed like giant compared to his frame. But as the final buzzer sounded and the bright lights around the backboards lite up what appeared to be the same color as our infrared uniforms and the clock read 0.0 the excitement couldn't be contained. Everyone decked out in Cardinal insignia were on their feet and the players smiled and cheered. It was a moment I'll never forget in all of my sporting event moments. In a night when the Midwest/Ohio Valley area invaded MSG my Cardinals hoisted up a navy blue banner with bold white letters reading Big East Champions. My Cardinals walked across the stage to receive the watches they were given my the Big East - well everyone except Dieng whom they seem to have forgotten. It was a night where our two seniors, Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric, stepped up and led the team in points. It was a tournament where Siva silenced the critics - even amongst his own fans - and showed that yes he can lead this team as he was carried up to accept his tournament MVP award on a teammate's shoulders. It was another amazing night in New York for me thanks to a little piece of my hometown. I couldn't resist buying the official championship t-shirt on the way out and wore it the next day even though team t-shirts aren't really the style I'm trying to showcase walking around the city. For one day I didn't care - I was so proud and still so excited.

A year ago I was disappointed and felt a little defeated that I had to miss Louisville's appearance in the Big East final and was starting to wonder if I could really find a place in New York to make it my home. A year later I got to go watch them play in the finals with a much better outcome then the prior year in the city that is now my home. On a night where so many things I love came into one how could I not be so grateful and so blessed for all that I have been given and all the opportunities I have been afforded. It's just a game I realize, but for me it seemed to symbolize so much. Because I no longer live in Louisville it doesn't mean I have to stop loving the things I love about the city I was born and raised in. I will always be a Cardinals fan. It also taught me that the simple joy you felt as child can still be ever present as an adult. And some things just tend to find a way to work out in the end.

Congratulations to my Cardinals team and good luck in the NCAA tournament.