We have reached the part of the college basketball season where teams are winding up the regular season and ramping up for the post season tournaments. Years of hard work hang in the balance as seniors across the country near the end of their college basketball careers, and programs all over the country are having their Senior Night/Day ceremonies. On Saturday the University of Louisville will honor four seniors Luke Hancock, Tim Henderson, Russ Smith, and Stephan Van Treese. On Saturday these guys will lace em up for the last time in that locker room, will come charging out of that tunnel to the alma mater for the last time, and will get the love and admiration from the Yum Center crowd for the last time.
On Saturday Cardinal fans will celebrate the contributions of our
Senior Class, recognizing the significant role these guys have played in this program, especially in the last two years where they have claimed two Big East Championships, two Final Fours and a National Title. This is the winningest Senior Class in the programs history. Ceremonies like on Saturday are part of the process that allows closure for the seniors and a passing of the torch to the underclassmen. But they really are bittersweet and I’m not looking forward to saying good-bye to this special group.
In successful programs like the University Louisville the tradition never graduates. This program is rich and vibrant because many groups of seniors have cared enough to give their very best. There are still many chapters that have yet to be written, but the 2014 basketball seniors have added to the outstanding tradition of the Cardinal program.
Stephan Van Treese says that the best advice he ever got as a player “hard work beats talent when talent isn’t working hard.” That quote pretty much epitomizes this young mans Louisville career. He was recruited to Louisville from Lawrence North high school along with another super star teammate and they both were supposed to be a part of a very special Louisville recruiting class in 2011. His fellow Lawrence North teammate decommitted, but Stephan decided to stick it out with Coach Pitino and stayed with the Cards. He had his struggles with some knee injuries and played in just three games during the 2011-12 seasons. He did not return to action for the remainder of the year. He battled back to be a work horse for his team. You aren’t going to be wowed by this young mans game but his 11.2 rebounds per 40 minutes average was second on the National Title team and he has 400 boards in his career. He’s averaging 5.1 rebounds this season. I really admire Stephan’s workman like attitude and his hustle will not be forgotten. Thanks for your physical sacrifice. You continue to lay your body on the line week in and week out, and you help set the tone on both ends of the floor.
Tim Henderson says the best advice he ever got as a player was that “hard work pays off.” Tim who has been described by coach Pitino as the best walk-on in college basketball just may be one of the hardest workers in college basketball. He is a local kid who walked on to the Cardinal program after his high school days at Louisville Christian Academy. Tim always stood out to me during the annual Red & White scrimmages where he would play so hard when he was on the floor. I once told my wife that if our son were old enough that I would point to Tim as an example of hard work on a basketball court. I wrote many times over the years that he would get his moment and sure enough after the injury to Kevin Ware he was bumped up in the rotation during the NCAA Tournament last year. In the Final Four game against Wichita State he hit two of the biggest shots in the history of the Louisville program and without Tim Henderson there would be no National Championship. Thank you Tim for your effort in the midst of little playing time. You are so unselfish and a total team player. You have stayed the course and inspired others.
Luke Hancock says the best advice he ever got as a player was “if he can do it, why can’t you?” My admiration for this guy is well documented through my scribbling on this website. Luke is a “can do it” kind of guy and through years of people telling him he wasn’t good enough and through years of adversity he made a name for himself in the college landscape. Last year we saw two amazing guys whose humility and decency defined their careers at Louisville in Siva and Dieng. Luke Hancock follows those guys in that aspect. It was awesome seeing Luke have his moment on the grand stage last year and going from a bench player to NCAA Final Fours Most Valuable Player will be a story that will be passed down through decades of Cardinal fans. Luke thank you for the love of your teammates. No one genuinely cares more about others than you and you’ve proven that on and off the court. In the face of high expectations and adversity, you have always put your teammates first and showed courageous leadership.
Russ Smith says the best advice that he ever got as a player was “to work harder every day.” Since making the decision to stay his freshman year nobody has worked harder than Russ to get where he is today. He went from not being on the radar as a high school recruit and playing sparingly as a freshman in college to being the face of the Cardinal basketball program. He is also one of the most popular athletes in college sports. In the world of instant gratification he gave up his chance to make a paycheck last year to come back and give us one more year of “Russdiculousness”. I don’t remember ever seeing a guy embrace the college life and the city of Louisville like he has. He is a Louisville Cardinal through and through. With two Big East titles, two Final Fours, and a National Title he is one of the most decorated seniors in college basketball. Russ still wants more and just in the last two weeks he’s had two heroic performances to add to his great legacy. Russ thanks for the courage and toughness of a young man twice your size. You have the heart of a lion. You have become one of the rocks of this team and have done it through nothing but hard work. Nobody better symbolizes the best of what this basketball program stands for than you.
Stephan, Tim, Luke and Russ we will honor you guys on Saturday in your final home game of your careers, but the program will continue to count on your leadership. Louisville First, Cardinal Forever. Finally, the game on Saturday will set the tone for an AAC and NCAA Tournament run. You need to prove to yourselves that you are ready physically, mentally, and emotionally to face the challenge of the weeks ahead. You are well prepared and have done the work, now it’s time to play! Go get that Championship. You guys are great!