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Friday, September 29, 2017

First of two Friday articles...JC Sullivan weighs in on Pitino, Louisville basketball -- FRIDAY CARDINAL COUPLE

A Brief History of Louisville Basketball and a lot of Conjecture

A Brief History:

Once upon a time there was a coach named Rick Pitino.  He was a great coach.  He had come into UK, cleaned up the program, played it straight, and even won a national championship.  Time goes by and he is brought in to UofL to do the same thing. As much as we all love Denny Crum, you have to admit things were never right after Wade Houston left. He was the yang to Denny's yin. He was a great recruiter and a great coach. Jerry Jones, Denny's right hand man, left and the decline was unpalatable.  Desperation led to poor recruiting choices and problems in the program.  Pitino is hailed as the hero come to save us. Some resent him, I will admit, I did, both because our beloved Denny was pushed out and that Pitino was once the enemy (UK).  Athletic director and all around wizard Tom Jurich knew all of the ill will could be cured by doing what Pitino does best - WIN.  And he did.  That first year he finished 19-13, but it was a winning record.  Never again did a Pitino team turn in less than a 20 win season.  In his fourth season he had us in the Final Four.  

Fast forward to 2009. Just three weeks after an upset loss in the Elite Eight Pitino released a statement that he was the victim of an extortion attempt.  Accusations of rape are then made by the extortionist Karen Sypher, but police find her less than credible.  Sypher is convicted but the extortion trial brings shame and ridicule. A 15 second tryst in a restaurant bathroom is the news that struck the University of Louisville.  The news media and Big Blowhard Nation had a field day.  Fans were divided.  Some clamored for his ouster.  Some claimed it had nothing to do with basketball.  Jurich defended Pitino.  I like Jurich, so like many UofL fans, I accepted that Pitino remains our coach.  I have never liked the guy and still don't, but red is the color of my heart.  

Going into the 2011-2012 season, Pitino was winning games but I remained at best, meh, on my feeling for him. 10 years and I still wasn't there. I missed Denny.  I wanted players with talent, passion, humor and embodied the love of Louisville I remember from the 1980 team.  I was sure I would never feel that again.  I loved my Cards. I cheered, but I still something was missing.  I just didn't feel it with Pitino.  

And then something happened- the 2012 Big East tournament. Pitino made some remark about having fun.  It was like a switch.  I watched him throw up his hands and shake his head at Russ.  A smile flashed on PeyPey's face, and then Gorgui's.  The camera panned to Pitino and he was laughing. Suddenly, I saw him having fun, enjoying this great beautiful thing that is Louisville Basketball. That is what had been missing! Had it been there the whole time and I missed it?  Or was there a change in Pitino?  I don't know and I am not sure that I care. I just know I was happy. The mojo was back.

They weren't supposed to win it. They were ranked 7th.  But they smiled, and they laughed, and they played loose. And they won. And Pitino, at long last, seemed to be having fun.  That carried into the NCAA. When Louisville, unexpectedly made the Final Four, I just knew we were going to win.  In short and bitter fashion, Kentucky crushed that dream, but even losing to our arch-rival couldn't stifle my renewed passion.  

I had taken a 2nd job working at the KFC Yum! Center.  I could never afford MBB season tickets so I worked every game I could the next season. There were games I was assigned as a ticket scanner where I never saw even a second of the game, but I was there, feeling the energy.  Soon I found my niche of working as a "stacker", the person out front welcoming fans, chasing scalpers and managing lines to get in. The best part was I finished work as soon as the crowd was in, early in the half and almost every game someone would give me a ticket they couldn't use.  The morning of the UK game I had to leave my brother's funeral and rush to Yum! to help with the large crowd. With no prospect for a ticket I doubted I would see the game but being there was something else.

At the last minute a friend, Dan Farmer, a UK fan (they aren't all bad), said when I got off work I could use his ticket to show my boss so he would let me staying the building (Glad, the boss never asked to scan it)  I got to watch the 2nd half of the game where Pitino finally bested Calipari.   I bought my Final Four tickets that night.  The game was fun again. The best part was the way Pitino talked about his players throughout the season.  You could tell he loved those kids like Denny loved his team.  I found myself feeling the same way about Luke, Gorgui, SVT, Russdiculous, Trez, Tim, Kevin, all of them as I did about Darrell, the McCrays, Jerry, Roger, Wiley, Derek, Tony, Poncho and the whole '80 team.  We all know what happened. That banner waves in KFC Yum! Center. (For now)  

A piece of the Final Four floor hangs in my house as the center logo hangs in Yum!  No one can take those memories away.  It happened. I was there.

But the feelings of elation were short lived. The scandal broke in Fall of 2015.  It was bad.

Strippers, players, recruits, and prostitution were all paid for by assistant coach, Andre McGee. The sanctions, the appeal were tough.  The idea that the banner could come down breaks the spirits of fans and all of our hearts.

If you have read this far, I hope you stick with it.  I don't know if this is what happened but at worst you'll get to see how my crazy mind works.

And now a lot of conjecture:

I don't think Pitino had a clue what McGee was doing.  Whether other assistants did or not,
my guess is at least some other staff knew.  Pitino was truly blindsided.  I believe he really was broken up about Damion and Trey missing their only shot at a NCAA tourney.  All of those feelings felt genuine. The process took its toll.  Pitino looked skinny and gaunt.  He aged years in a very short period.

The shoe dropped (foreshadowing pun) and we were going to lose the banner.  Yeah, we were appealing, but no one realistically thought we could save it.  Once Ramsey was ousted Jurich lost his ally to keep Pitino. The new board wanted Pitino's head on a platter.  Interim President Pinto didn't really seem to have the interest in tackling the whole scandal and got out of town at the first opportunity when the University of Cincinnati presidential position became vacant.  (I don't blame him.) 

In comes Greg Postel.  He wants the full time gig.  He has to make his mark to get it.  It is reported to me he has high morals and integrity and is disgusted by the scams and high payouts to Ramsey and his cronies, including Tom Jurich.  The university is in serious financial trouble due to the shenanigans.  Jurich didn't play a part but he benefited greatly.  That ticked off Postel even more.  Add in the fact that athletic department, the richest basketball program, was flush with cash and ever expanding while the university was forced into layoff and even eliminating already reduced funding to the student paper.

Postel and Jurich strained to present a working relationship but it was obvious a lower struggle between 2 alpha males.  It made me think we should be called The Ducks, calm on the surface, but paddling like crazy underneath.  Postel strong-armed money from athletics for the KFC Yum! Center refinancing.  Jurich does a very Jurich thing and one up a him with the new $160 million deal with Adidas with no notice or approval from Postel.  Both say it was his deal to make but both know it was to show Postel up.

Since the beginning Postel and the new board have pushed to get rid of Pitino.  His "sexcapades" and scandals have embarrassed the university and are poised to cost millions in returning tournament money and fines. Jurich resists every appeal from them to fire Pitino.  He is loyal.  Loyal to a fault we have come to find.  

Pitino knows Jurich is protecting him, but he knows once the appeal is lost all bets are off.  He also can't stand the thought of losing that championship.  He begins to realize the only thing that can save face and quite possibly his position is to win it all now.  He has the pieces, the players to make a run, but a run won't do it. Much like watching the full eclipse we recently witness, the difference between 99% and a full eclipse is literally night and day.  It must be a championship.  In order to win, his players must be inspired or challenged to work harder than they ever have.  In particular, Ray Spalding has to make that jump, or we need another talent, another spark.  With a scholarship open and late in the process there are only a couple blue chip players not committed.  He loses out on one to another school.

Playing it straight just doesn't work since the shoe companies have been money players in the AAU/college game

He needs that championship.  He is tired of the look of fire in Postel's eyes, the disappointment by Jurich despite his loyal defense.  He wants to feel what I described above, utter joy. I believe he even feels he owes it to the fans.  I know, pie in the sky, but I do think he loves the fan base even if he feels above us.  And so the overtures made to him by certain people to put blue chippers in Adidas and grab more of Nike's market share suddenly becomes a necessary evil.  Part of him even feels like he is being persecuted for something he didn't do so why not.  Everyone else is doing it. All the excuses everyone uses when they justify doing wrong.  He needs to replace that banner.  He needs to have one more success to wash away these scandals.

And so he goes down the rabbit hole.

Julie "J.C." Sullivan


  1. Very interesting and riveting. Thanks for your perspective.

  2. This is a good read, no doubt. Pitino will never get another chance to coach though if he is Coach #2. He's blown any TV jobs as well if it is released that he is Coach #2.

    Of course, Rick is rich. He can go to Fla. sit on his yacht or private beach and play the ponies at Calder or Gulfstream.

    The stain he has left on the program, though, cannot be washed away.

    Blue Lou

  3. Julie has come in and cleared the bases with a towering shot in her first article here with us.

    Emotions are running high in Cardinal Nation. This is going to be with us a long time.

    I urge you to wear Red today and tomorrow. I urge you to go to Field Hockey, Or Women's Soccer. Or Volleyball tonight and wear your Red proudly.

    We are UofL. We have a proud history and tradition. Support these athletes.


  4. Both great articles today, Cardinal Couple. I will remain loyal. We re-hung the Cardinal flag today outside the house here. Had to buy a new one and it's a bear to find them here in Sarasota! Don't know where the previous one went but I am guessing it was either a victim of the hurricane or a vandal.

    I agree Paulie. A program is made up of the fans and the student-athletes. The players will change, obviously, as the years go by but the fan base needs to stay strong and loyal.

    And, when is this "shoes going to drop" on dem Kats in Lessington?

    Your friend,

    David Watson

  5. Uh, not to be a butthead or anything but didn't Rick and Karen do it in a booth at Porcini's? I think I remember people asking when they were being seated if they were in the Rick booth? I was a regular there as a customer for a long time but moved out of town last year.

    Stay strong, Card Nation.

  6. Just a gross as it is...

    "Did you have sex that night?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Ford asked.

    "Yes, very briefly," said Pitino, who wore a dark suit with a white shirt and red tie. The two have said they had sex at the table.


  7. The Bird Lady9/29/2017 1:42 PM

    I have heard it both ways but Yes, upon checking it seems to have been at a booth. Thanks for the correction

  8. Wow that was great story a tall tale of tale!!!! lol
    (Go cards no one is bigger than the University)

  9. The Bird Lady9/29/2017 2:47 PM

    PS - Sorry for the typos in the article. Next time, (hopefully there will be a next time) I will write on the laptop rather than the phone which hopefully will make them easier for me to catch.


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