C-J vault: Elite Eight 2005

While we count down the last few hours to the University of Kentucky’s appearance in the 2010 Elite Eight against West Virginia in Syracuse, N.Y., I’m taking a look back at some Elite Eight eves past in The Courier-Journal archives with both UK and the University of Louisville.

These Cards sure deserve a Final Four

By JERRY BREWER, March 26, 2005, Page C-1

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On the eve of the University of Louisville’s biggest basketball game in 19 years, you wanted to cry. The NCAA put the prominent Cardinals in different rooms and had them tell the media their stories for 30 minutes.
Most of them took 45.

Walk through one doorway, and freshman Juan Palacios had begun a tale of how a high school teammate died in a van accident and how he came within seconds of getting into that vehicle.

Venture to the next room, and junior Taquan Dean was in the middle of recounting his mother’s death, his grandparents’ deaths, his uncle’s death, all of which occurred before he was 10.

Across the hall, senior Ellis Myles recalled his old neighborhood in Compton, Calif., and concluded by reasoning, “If you just make it out of the streets of Compton, I guess you’ve got to be some kind of tough.”

Next door, junior Francisco Garcia relived his brother’s killing and relayed how desperately he wants to get his mother out of Bronx, N.Y.

In the interview room, coach Rick Pitino remembered the tragic deaths of his two brothers-in-law. A taxi hit Don Vogt, and Billy Minardi died during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. During this season, his mother died.

There was not enough space to isolate senior Otis George, who has a mother suffering from epilepsy.

Tough and inspired

There was not enough time left – or maybe even courage – to comb for more hidden stories of despair from the other players. So it had to be this team. Of all the squads, it had to be this one. It had to take a perfectly flawed and flawlessly resilient team to end your pain.

And though it might sound ridiculous and unreasonably dramatic, it had to take a collection of men hardened by tragedy and inspired by a mission to make an entire city believe again.

When Louisville beats West Virginia today at The Pit, the school will celebrate its first Final Four since 1986. Respect for the opponent and competition left the Cardinals unable to say it yesterday.

But you can. The drought will end. This isn’t just destiny; this is proper. This is the team and the time. You cannot overstate what this game means.

“It means a lifetime of struggle, and now it’s like light at the end of the tunnel,” Dean said. “It’s right there.”

Dean explained. As he grew up dealing with death, basketball became his peace. He worked so hard at it.

Reward for hard work

The sport wasn’t easy. It messed up his abdominal wall last season and put his peace in jeopardy, just as it had torn Myles’ knee two years ago. Still he played and worked and rehabilitated a weird injury called a double sports hernia. He anticipated a reward and perspective for a personal quest.

“People say when you work hard, you get rewarded,” Dean said. “We have been through everything possible that a team can go through – from deaths to c oach Pitino losing his mother to Francisco Garcia losing his brother to me having a double hernia to Ellis going down with his knee. It’s just been constant negativity.

“Now it’s positive. And if it were to end, we still had a great run. But we’re not ready for it to end.”

Why this team?

Because its members never asked why through their struggles. Because the joy of basketball came to mean so much to them. Because they put their significant pain with your trivial pain and unselfishly went about a mission:

To rejuvenate this program.

For you. And for them.

“If we get to the Final Four, we can say we put Louisville back in the spotlight,” Myles said.

A spotlight, piercing through, finding joy.

Perfect image.

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