BOZICH: Cards celebrate their one shining moment with fans - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH: Cards celebrate their one shining moment with fans

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Louisville fans stuffed the KFC Yum! Center to celebrate the achievements of the men's and women's teams. Louisville fans stuffed the KFC Yum! Center to celebrate the achievements of the men's and women's teams.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The trophies were stacked at the foot of the stage like Christmas presents surrounding the Pitino and Walz family trees.

None of the 20,000 or so folks stuffed into the KFC Yum! Center late on Wednesday afternoon needed a reminder that there has never been a better time to be a University of Louisville basketball fan. But there were a half-dozen glistening pieces of hardware that told the story one more time.

The Louisville men's basketball team congratulated the women's team on their remarkable runner-up national finish. Rick Pitino said the moment when "we beat Baylor," registered as the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament.

The women's team saluted the men on the national title they delivered against Michigan Monday night. Shoni Schimmel, Antonita Slaughter and other players nodded their heads as coach Jeff Walz said they watched that game as a group, screaming at the TV after every critical play.

"It's time to celebrate," Pitino said. "It really is."

"I told all of them that in 10, 15, 20 years, they'll all be able to look back and remember the memories they've been able to establish during their run," said Walz.

The crowd didn't need to hear any more to roar relentlessly, but they heard plenty of things that made them wish the 2014 season started tomorrow.

Example A: Athletic director Tom Jurich promised that Walz's program would not only catch Connecticut, it "will pass them."

Example B: Pitino's geography lesson not only included New Orleans and Atlanta. He also mentioned Dallas. I don't think he was talking about saying hello to Tony Romo. If you have not looked at the 2014 basketball calendar, next season's Final Four will be played in Cowboys Stadium in suburban Dallas.

"I always preach let's live for today, let's live in the present," Pitino said. "But wouldn't it be something if we could somehow get back to Dallas next year without living too much in the future?"

Less than 48 hours after the men delivered the school's third national title and less than 24 hours after the women finished second to Connecticut, nobody was showing any signs of a hangover, other than a raspy voice or two.

Discussions are ongoing with The White House on when Pitino's team will visit President Obama in the Rose Garden. Both teams have invitations to serve as the grand marshals of the 2013 Pegasus Parade during Kentucky Derby week. Expect the players to be recognized again Saturday during U of L's spring football game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

And everywhere else they go in town until further notice.

They filled the video board with a string of replays from the championship runs that both teams made, highlighted by the "One Shining Moment" video that always puts an exclamation point on the men's tournament.

Pitino said that late Tuesday night, after he watched the women's team play in New Orleans, he retreated with several friends to a bar on Bourbon Street for a beverage. A replay of the U of L-Michigan game rolled across the TV screen.

"I was really blown away for the first time by the impact of how good our team was," Pitino said. "Here I am, a 60-year-old man, crying in a bar on Bourbon Street. It was just awesome."

About the only good news that the crowd did not receive came in an unanswered request from Russ Smith. The original script had Luke Hancock, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, senior Peyton Siva and injured sophomore Kevin Ware working the microphone.

The crowd wanted more. Some wanted to hear from every player. But they chanted for Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan.

Dieng spoke. So did Smith, the junior guard who led all scorers in the NCAA Tournament. He never directly responded to the crowd's booming request for one more year, but Smith did say something that makes him sound like a goner:

"I just want to say thank you guys for a tremendous three years here, and I'll never forget this place and I love you guys."

Smith wasn't available to answer questions after the nearly 90-minute celebration. None of the players were. It's been an exhausting three-week journey.

They exited on the south side of the building, walking across the Main Street plaza to even more cheers and thousands of people howling about what a wonderful time it is to be a University of Louisville basketball fan.

Copyright 2013 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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