Over the course of the last few years, the University of Louisville has been an easy target for ridicule, mostly due to the tidal wave of negative publicity stemming from the school’s sports programs. Without rehashing the tumultuous timeline, it’s easy to say that fans of the basketball and football teams have been put through a blender of shit and piss leaving a chunk of us (like myself) to solemnly question our fanhood. While it’s been almost all bad around here, there’s nothing quite as detrimental to a fanbase like being stripped of a championship, and to be honest I wasn’t sure how Louisville could possibly rebound.
As Bobby Petrino stumbles his way through another sub par season, and former basketball coach Rick Pitino continues to embarrass himself on a regular basis, a gleaming light of hope for the future has begun to rise on the Louisville horizon. Chris Mack is that fiery beacon of the future, and has quickly become the soothing breath of fresh air that Cardinal fans have been gasping for after suffering years of relentless toxic fumes. His record at UofL currently sits at 0-0 as he hasn’t coached a single game yet for Louisville, but leading up to his debut season as Cardinal head basketball honcho, he’s continued to reunite the splintered Cardinal fanbase. How has he done this in such a short time? In a number of ways, actually…
When he was first hired, he quickly took to the media charismatically opening himself up as a relateable everyman — or as I’ve called him, the anti-Pitino. He comes across as a fun, neighborly type that you’d invite to your house for your next cookout, or the the kind of person you’d like to have a beer with. He also seems to have a legitimate sense of humor that has been on full display on social media as he’s become a must-follow on Twitter (follow him here). Maybe this persona is a total act and we’ve all been duped, but for now I’m going with it.
While Rick Pitino famously shunned former Cardinals (and then welcomed in former Wildcats), Mack has has flipped the script by making all former Louisville basketball players welcome back to the program. It made me feel really good as a dedicated fan of the program’s prestigious history when Russ Smith said this a few months ago: “Especially a lot of the former players who felt like they couldn’t come back. I’m talking maybe the 90s or the early 2000s, him bringing guys back and saying, ‘You’re a part of us,’ it makes everybody feel one. It makes everybody feel like a family.” That quote alone should warm any longtime lover of Cardinal basketball, no question.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Mack has put together one hell of a recruiting class. Given the recent history and black cloud hovering around the program, no one gave him much of a chance to put together a class this good this fast. All of the major recruiting services currently have the Cards’ 2019 haul ranked in the top 5 — and rising. Anyone says that this is what they were expecting from Mack and his staff out of the gate is a damned liar. No one knows if any of these recruits will measure up to their lofty rankings, but for now I’m allowing myself to get excited about this class (especially SF Samuell Williamson — I love his game!).
After a few years of feeling betrayed by the program that I’d so passionately supported for most of my life, my love of Cardinal Basketball is starting to return. Thanks to Chris Mack, the fire inside of me has been re-lit, and I’m as excited as I’ve ever been about a new season.