What if I told you there was an extraordinary, almost preternatural, member of the UofL men’s basketball team whose mere presence in games guaranteed a Cardinal victory? You’d probably be wondering why Louisville is heading into mid-February with four losses, and you’d be correct to do so.
What if I then told you that the opening paragraph of this column was no meaningless hypothetical? That such a player does exist and that this fact makes the mighty Cardinals’ 19-4 record an inexcusable mark?
Buckle up, because that’s exactly the ride on which I’m about to take you.
The player in question is David Levitch. If you don’t recognize the name, don’t be too hard on yourself, because apparently his own head coach has a hard time remembering that the young man is on the team. The only difference is you’re a fan, while Rick Pitino is a Hall of Fame coach being paid millions to make simple decisions like giving the David Levitches of the world their justified court time.
Feast your eyes on this fact: David Levitch has played in 11 games for Louisville this season. The Cardinals’ record in those games? Just your standard, everyday 11-0. You don’t have to be “Prince of Mathematics” Carl Friedrich Gauss to figure out that success rate.
In conference play, the lack of every-night Levitch becomes even more difficult to fathom. The Cardinals are 4-0 in AAC games in which the freshman from Goshen plays, defeating those four opponents by a combined 120 points, or 30 points per game. Without Levitch? Louisville is a pedestrian 4-2 in the league, a mark which would put them a full seven wins behind first-place Cincinnati in the current conference standings.
Pitino defenders can spew their rhetoric all they want. That’s fine. I fully expect to be bombarded with emails and contacted by the typical members of Pitino’s inner circle of mind control as soon as this column is distributed, and I’m good with that. As Gandhi once said: “Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.”
The truth is that this minority of one is growing.
While your typical “Joe Cardinal” fan will point to Pitino’s consecutive Final Fours, 2013 national championship, recent Hall of Fame enshrinement and status as the only coach in college basketball history to guide two different programs to national titles as proof of his “job security,” there’s another group of supporters out there with the bravery to think for themselves. And they’re starting to get angry.
“I can’t really tell whether or not you’re being serious,” one enraged season ticket holder told me over the phone Wednesday morning.
That rage is indicative of a growing faction of enlightened Louisville fans who are starting to ask questions the brass at UofL doesn’t want you to hear. Questions like: Do you really think that rising stars in the coaching ranks like Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics or Shaka Smart at VCU would keep a player whose mere presence in a game guaranteed victory on the bench? They don’t want you to hear those questions because they know the obvious answer demands action.
Averaging 24.0 points per game as a senior at North Oldham High School, Levitch was the seventh leading scorer in the state of Kentucky in 2012-13. His favorite book is “The Kite Runner,” and he was receiving attention from programs like Bellarmine and Stetson before taking Pitino up on his offer to walk-on at UofL. It was the place where David had always dreamed of playing, and he turned down the opportunity for more playing time to make his dream come true.
They say loyalty in sports is dead – probably because this is the way it’s repaid in this day and age.
Pitino has spoken at length in recent years about the importance of humility. The significance of the trait was one of the main focal points of the coach’s most recent book, “The One Day Contract: How to Add Value to Every Minute of Your Life.” Perhaps there are pages of that bestseller that need to be re-read by the author, because it certainly seems as though a recurrent bout of hardheadedness is the only thing keeping Pitino’s present team from a perfect season.
“The data speaks pretty loudly,” said college basketball statistical guru Ken Pomeroy in a recent interview that didn’t actually take place. “When (David Levitch) appears in a box score, Louisville is a perfect 11-0, which correlates to a win percentage of 100 percent. Take him out of the box score and the Cardinals’ win percentage dips all the way down to 66.66 percent. I’m not even going to get into the morality aspect of those figures, but suffice it to say, the data indicates that it would be in Coach Pitino’s best interest to change up his rotations and get this player on the court for at least one second every game.”
This isn’t just about basketball. Levitch’s resemblance to international pop icon Justin Bieber has already been noticed by a handful of opposing student sections, laying the foundation for a crossover superstar whose ties to Louisville could benefit both the basketball program and the university for years to come. “His hair will remind you of Bieber, his game will make you a believer” was one slogan I was thinking about. It’d be a lot easier if one of his names rhymed with “Justin” or “Bieber,” but none of that will ever matter so long as Pitino is calling the shots inside the KFC Yum! Center.
Pitino has spoken many times before about the dangers of our current “microwave society,” where people can only see what’s happening right now and largely ignore the past and the future. Perhaps it’s a phenomenon that can also explain Pitino’s newfound place in Springfield, Mass., because what’s happening with one of his players right now certainly makes it seem like the folks from the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame decided to call his name a year too early.