A Hoopaholic’s Perspective on The Cardinals

To help move on from some unhealthy habits decades ago, among other things, I took to accepting the benefits of what I’d previously and derisively referred to as “fix me books.”

To great benefit.

Among my favorites remains Richard Carlson’s “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff . . . and it’s all small stuff.”

Short chapters. Quick reads. Sage wisdom to cope with the exigencies of daily life.

Given my days short of seven decade love affair with U of L hoops, for better or worse, through richer or poorer, it has been difficult in the recent troubled years for the program to find Carlson’s sense of perspective to it all.

The not fun, admittedly discouraging start of the Kenny Payne Era hasn’t helped.

I am as dismayed as any.

Those healthier than I am can deal with it more calmly.

In these knee jerk times when many, frustrated, live in ten minute cycles, there are fans mired in fury.

I have been preaching patience.

As much for myself as for those who might listen.

Though I truly am of the opinion that we won’t know for several seasons whether Kenny Payne is as good a coach as he is a decent human being.

Will things turn out like they did for some other favorite sons returned to the alma mammy? Chris Mullen at St. Johns? Clyde Drexler at Houston? Patrick Ewing at Georgetown?

Or will KP prove himself a worthy successor to the several greats who previously sat in the first chair for Cardinal Men’s Hoops?

The Carlson chapter next in line that I read this morning in a quest for calm is titled, “Search for the Grain of Truth in Other Opinions.”

So, I am leaning into the wisdom of WDRB.com’s Eric Crawford about the conundrum and angst facing the Cardinal Nation.

At first, my intention was to cut and paste his article about this in full. Giving full credit, for sure. But there are those pesky copyright laws. So, while urging you to go read the entirety of Eric’s piece — after finishing this of course — below are quoted salient sections.

Before Kenny Payne was introduced as coach, I wrote, “Upon the news of his hiring, none other than Magic Johnson Tweeted his congratulations and commended U of L on the hire. But while Payne may have Magic in his corner, he doesn’t have it in his pocket. He can’t wave a wand and fix a program that little resembles the one he played for. And, in fact, the job today is far more difficult than it was four years ago, when he felt he was ready for the job but got only a cursory glance from the school, and perhaps even less from its fan base. There may have been fewer than 5,000 fans in the KFC Yum! Center for the Cardinals’ last home game. The talent level has fallen, and so has the teamwork.”

The idea of losing is one thing, the details are something else. Lose three straight one-point games to start the season and the dumpster is on fire.

Get your fire suit. It’s going to be a long season.

I’ve been in the business long enough, too, to know this: Often, simple basketball issues are linked to other issues that have nothing to do with the game. And, goodness knows, this group of players has every excuse in the book — rightfully — given what this program has put them through the past two years.

Except that’s exactly what it is. This is what Louisville basketball is right now: a program that draws poorly, that just escaped the NCAA shadow, whose talent level has dipped and that is badly in need of a shot of adrenaline. This is not the program that hangs in the rafters in the arena. It is the program of empty seats and last-second losses.

Changing that, restoring what has been lost, is no small job, and it is Payne’s task. How he goes about doing that is the story of this basketball season.

What gets lost, sometimes, is that these are all human beings with lives of their own. They aren’t robots in uniforms. Coaches aren’t cardboard cutouts at a grocery store. Yet, if there’s little access to them or their struggles even amid a season like this, they grow to be two-dimensional, and the reality of them is just the numbers on the stat sheet.

Some of the humanity is lost. Frankly, it’s a lot easier to rip a guy on radio or TV or in print if you haven’t stood beside him at his locker after he just lost a third-straight game by one point.

My best advice, if anyone wants it, is to pace yourself. It’s going to be a long season in more ways than one. But the most important story of this difficult basketball season for Louisville may not be what transpires on the court but in the response of its fan base, the resilience of its coaching staff and in the culture that results from those.

Again, I urge all who care about Cardinal hoops to read the entirety of Eric Crawford’s column at WDRB.com.

In searching for grains of truth about the state of my beloved Cardinals, I have sought and found Truth in the Opinion of another.

And to fellow Cardinal diehards, I wish for patience as strong and deep as your passion.

— c d kaplan

6 thoughts on “A Hoopaholic’s Perspective on The Cardinals

  1. Well written as usual CD; and I can feel your angst about your beloved Cards… Hang in there, now that the sword of Damocles is no longer hovering the next chapters can be contemplated.

  2. Carlson’s book is in my nightstand and has been so for years. I have not idea what’s going on but I, too, would urge a little slack…OK, maybe a lot of slack from a fan base that enjoyed the program’s successes for so many, many years. We owe it to them.

  3. In the case of Louisville basketball, there has always been an connection and energy between the fans and the players on the floor that was the very definition of “home court advantage.” Central to rebuilding “the brand,” as the former regime called it, is rebuilding the fan base, which can only really happen if people are able to experience the game in person. Just a few weeks back, I looked into buying season tickets, which would have been my first time doing so since 1986 or so — about the time that the “charitable contribution” was instituted for those wishing to reserve the more desirable seats in Freedom Hall. These days, according to the Cardinal Athletics website, a 19-game season (not including the charitable donation) is priced, at a minimum, at $1,134, or about $60 a game. Meanwhile, I checked the price for the women’s game against Notre Dame, Feb. 26. A very good ticket would cost me just $14.

    For the men’s program, what we have here is what economists refer to as “market disequilibrium.” As a life-long fan, I want to be present at these earliest moments of the long re-building. The financial cost of doing so, however, is beyond the means of most of us, given all the other demands of life in an inflationary environment. While I suspect that U of L’s arrangement with secondary market vendors might make repricing the remaining games difficult, without a critical mass of fans in the arena, all that’s left is an altogether different kind of critical mass of fans watching on TV, cursing at the team and coaches.

    When Muhammad Ali’s memorial service was held at the YUM Center, the family specified that a large number of tickets be offered free to the community, first-come, first served. There are so many of us who want to give KP and the team the support they need, but we’ve been “priced out of the market.” Time for Josh Heird and his team to devise an altogether new marketing plan to get the rank and file back in the House, to raise a little L.

  4. Mr. Trawick as does Seedy make very salient points; patience and reconfigured marketing. The reality of the matter is we live in a nanosecond society or to quote Gary Burbank, former WHAS radio afternoon DJ, “we are congragants in the church of what’s happening NOW”. Ain’t no appeal to financial and emotional logic going to do much to relieve the pain except the elixir of wins. A year, two or three years in our contemporary society is an eternity.
    Fans will be patient and tolerant if there is progress. Progress is a pain reliever. People hate pain and as a society spend billions of dollars annually for pain relief.
    We will have to wait, probably in pain, to see if KP and his players develop a symbiotic relationship and or we see significant progress in the recruiting wars. The fans, if any remain, won’t live in intolerable pain.

  5. Good column, you and Eric are spot on. Mr. Trawick has good points. It has been easy for me to go to games the last couple of years, because I happen to know season ticketholders who either aren’t that interested themselves and/or have few friends and family asking them for their tickets. How many others did not renew? I think they should invite upper level fans down to the lower level, as they once did for an NIT game. Creative pricing should also be considered.

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