A Week To Remember For Pitino

Kevin Ware cut the net after the Cards won the National Championship.

Kevin Ware cut the net after the Cards won the National Championship.

Basketball purists would love the University of Louisville’s national champions.

In their 82-76 victory over Michigan and its College Player of the Year Trey Burke, the Cardinals did whatever Rick Pitino wanted them to do.

Nine Cardinals played and nine Cardinals contributed to the pulsating 82-76 victory before a roaring crowd of 74,326 in Atlanta Monday night.

Immediately after the edge-of-the seat game, the worst kept secret of this or any other year was made official. Pitino really is going to the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

The Hall of Fame for Pitino, his second national championship (the other was at Kentucky) and the hiring of his son Richard as head coach at the University of Minnesota made it a week to remember for the Pitino family.

Denny Crum coached  both of UofL’s other two championship teams, in 1986 over Duke 72-69 at Dallas, and in 1980 over UCLA 59-54 at Indianapolis. Darrell Griffith, the greatest Cardinal guard of all time, led that championship team.

Lexington paper boosts Cardinals

Two things I never expected to see in The Lexington Herald-Leader:

An editorial with the headline, “We’re all Cardinals now,” and the paper urged fans to cheer for UofL in both the men’s and women’s national tournaments.

On the same page in the Lexington paper was this letter from George Hunter of Nicholasville: “Only one question remains from the Sunday evening Louisville-Duke game. Did Coach K pay tuition for that Rick Pitino basketball clinic he attended?”

Step by step

UofL got a late start in major college basketball. Early games were played in the ballroom of the Brown Hotel, in the nearby YMCA and the Young Men’s Hebrew Association. Later the Cardinals competed with small colleges in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and didn’t really become serious about basketball until “Peck” Hickman was hired as coach and athletic director. The Cards left a tiny gym on Belknap Campus and started drawing 8,000 or so on a regular basis in the Jefferson County Armory, which  also was the site of Southeastern Conference tournaments.

The next big step was Freedom Hall, and that was followed by the ultimate, the KFC YUM! Center.

Equally important was the hiring of Rick Pitino to succeed the retiring Denny Crum.

‘Baby’ Unseld?

The first time I saw Chane Behanan I thought there’s a Baby Wes Unseld.

Unseld was the strongest and best all-around center in the history of basketball at the University of Louisville.

When there was a rebound to be snared, opposing players knew to get out of his way—or else! That’s how strong Unseld was when he was playing for Seneca High School, UofL and the Washington team in the National Basketball Association.

No one challenged him. When Unseld’s knees got so bad that he often didn’t go to the far court. He just rebounded the ball, passed to a teammate and then waited at the foul line to play defense.

There was one intimidating bad boy who scared everyone else in the NBA. Not Wes. Once the intimidator stole the ball and came rushing as fast as he could directly toward Unseld. I asked what happened.

“Don’t write this,” said Wes, “but he stopped just before he got to me.”

Thank goodness Wes never tore anyone’s head off, but he was that strong.

Like Unseld, no opposing player could tear away the ball from Behanan’s grasp, but he was so strong that he could take it away from unfriendly hands.

The robust junior was  the leading rebounder in the championship game with an even dozen. He also was the Cardinals’ third-leading scorer with 15. The amazing Luke Hancock led with 22 and Peyton Siva finished one of his finest all-around efforts with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.