If you were to go and ask any Louisville Cardinal fan who their favorite player of all-time is, you will get a number of answers. The names of Griffith, Ellison, Wheat, and Wagner will be the choice of many.
Maybe it is Russ, Luke, Gorgiu, or Peyton. The truth is, there are so many great and likable players in Louisville’s storied history, but none of them will go down in history quite the way Damion Lee and Trey Lewis will.
Lee and Lewis came to U of L as fifth year transfers from Drexel and Cleveland State respectively. Both had solid careers at their previous schools. Lee scored 1176 points in his three seasons with Drexel and Lewis scored 987 in his two seasons at Cleveland State.
Their main purpose for coming to Louisville was the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament, a dream they did not get to achieve at their previous schools. Tuesday night these two players will represent Louisville as the only seniors on a team that has been banned from playing in the ACC or the NCAA tournament.
Rick Pitino has never truly embraced the one-and-done player in the truest since that some schools have. He seems to enjoy coaching kids for multiple seasons and seeing them grow as players. Gorgiu Dieng and Russ Smith were two of those types of players. Both grew from players with little pro potential to NBA draft picks and part of the 2013 championship team.
Lee and Lewis will now be one-and-done players in a new kind of way and Pitino has gone all in with these two. Fifth year transfers bring maturity and experience that typical freshman do not. Obviously these players have shown they can get the job done. In order to play as a fifth year transfer, the player must have graduated from their previous school.
Fans remember their favorite players for a variety of reasons. They remember Darrell Griffith for leading U of L to its first NCAA Championship, Milt Wagner for his clutch shooting, and Russ Smith for just simply being Russdiculous. Lee and Lewis will be remembered for being on a team with great potential, but banned from the tournament and in the aftermath, how they handled the situation.
This would have been an entirely different team without Lee and Lewis. Perhaps it would have been a team struggling to make the tournament even if it were not banned. They are U of L’s top two scorers, but they bring so much more to the team than just points. They bring leadership, maturity, and a strength to persevere in difficult situations.
Their perseverance was never on more of a full display than the evening of February 5. Just hours after they were the first to learn of the ban, the two sat a table with their teammates standing behind them and gave their response to the ban as well as answering questions to the local media. From all reports, they were the ones that wanted to do this. This was not the school’s doing, but these two young men that wanted everyone to know what their thoughts were.
Many college athletes would not even want to face the media in the midst of circumstances beyond their control let alone call a press conference themselves. These two did not deserve the type of punishment they received. They had nothing to do with the problems at U of L. Yes, punishment must be handed out in due time, but not to these men.
Tuesday night will be their last home game in a Cardinals’ uniform. Gone are their hopes for a tournament berth. The only solace they can take is a small chance they can win a share of the ACC regular season title. This will be an emotional game for both players as well as their teammates,
coaches, and 20,000 plus U of L fans. They may not be able to play in the tournament, but their impact on the University of Louisville will not be forgotten.