ORLANDO, Fla. (WDRB) -- This isn't an objective list. I say that right up front. It's based on stories I covered and wrote this year. These are some of the people who will stay with me, or who were the most memorable as I sat down to review the year just ended.
You'll note that the No. 1 spot is a tie. That's not a cop out. In terms of importance to their respective programs and actions off the field (and court), there's no differentiating these two. So I won't. One thing I noticed looking back at this list, it's heavy on University of Louisville basketball. I suppose that can't be helped, not just because of the championship season, but because of nature of some of these guys, how long they've been around, and the access we were granted to them. Anyway, these are my most memorable. Someone else might have a different list entirely.
A look back . . .
1. PEYTON SIVA. We watched Peyton Siva grow up here in Louisville, in a lot of ways. We know his story, the childhood spent amid chaos. He was in it but not of it. He dragged friends off the streets into his mom's home. He went looking for his dad and literally pulled him off the streets. Siva brought a number of people with him on his climb to an NCAA championship. He could've been just another nice story. That he happened to cap off his Louisville career by leading the Cardinals to a win in the NCAA title game just proved -- nice guys do sometimes finish first. Read: "Peyton Siva -- Suffering and Glory"
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER. He probably hurt his own cause a little when he went to offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and head coach Charlie Strong and asked that there be no organized Heisman Trophy campaign on his behalf, but he stayed true to himself. He showed up at hospitals without fanfare or notice. He graduated in three years. He said the right things. And he provided more than one moment which will be recognized among those that were the most important of all in Louisville's emergence from a small-conference power into a large-conference player. Read "Bridgewater is Louisville's Calm in the Storm"
2. NERLENS NOEL. They say that one-and-done players show up, play ball for six or eight months and then leave. That they don't invest themselves at the University of Kentucky. People that say that didn't pay attention to Nerlens Noel. He befriended Kentuckians of all circumstance. Older folks in nursing homes. Young kids who were sick. He didn't just pay visits, he got to know people. When he underwent a season-ending knee injury at Florida, one of his first phone calls was to 7-year-old Kelly Melton, a leukemia patient at the University of Kentucky Hospital. I wish he could've stayed around longer, but we were fortunate he was here for a short while. Read "Nerlens Noel's Derby Guest"
3. SHONI AND JUDE SCHIMMEL. More than providing the Kodak moments for the University of Louisville women's basketball run to the championship game, the sisters have become folk heroes to thousands of native Americans around the nation. Shoni appeared at a White House panel on the 40th anniversary of Title IX. When they played at Oklahoma this year, there were hundreds of fans waiting to meet them after the game. They have carried that responsibility with pride, but also with grace. Read "Louisville Women Own the Season's One Shining Moment"
4. SHUG McGAUGHEY. The old trainer never was obsessed with winning the Kentucky Derby. He'd get to it when the time was right. That time was 2013, when Orb rolled to victory and took the Lexington native to the winner's circle, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Orb's owner, 72-year-old Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, underscored the time it can take to reach horse racing's most prestigious prize. And that in horse racing, nice guys do finish first. Sometimes it just takes a while. Read "Orb Sees His Way Clear to Derby Win"
5. WESLEY KORIR. The former University of Louisville cross-country All-American and Boston Marathon champion won a different kind of race in 2013 -- for parliament in Kenya. He now calls himself the "world's fastest politician," and has been stumping for his country's behalf, including at a MedWater fund-raiser in Louisville this past September, when he said, "I'm testing to see if I'm really capable of changing Kenya. I have five years to learn and accomplish something, and then there are elections again. My goal, my ambition really, in the next ten years, is to run for the presidency of Kenya." When Korir enters a race, he's a threat.Read: "Korir running for the cause of Kenya"
6. KEVIN WARE. The broken leg he suffered against Duke, and his reaction to it, inspired the nation, and that's not an overstatement. He was one of the most-searched athletes on Google for the year. People wrote to him from all over the nation to express their admiration and support, including many celebrity athletes. He got a phone call from the First Lady and a note from former president Bill Clinton. He made his return to the court this season, but still isn't 100 percent. The price of fame is never having the public eye leave you. When he got a speeding ticket in Bowling Green, Louisville television cameras followed him down for his court hearing. Breaking a leg, even on national television, doesn't make you a hero. But it can, if you respond the right way, make you an inspiration. Ware was. Read: "Ware Mail: A Nation Responds to His Injury and Recovery"
7. KATHY RITVO. When Mucho Macho Man won the Breeders' Cup Classic, it was a classic finish for the trainer who battled back from a heart transplant to saddle a starter in the Kentucky Derby, and became the first female trainer to win the sport's richest race. It was a Hollywood Finish at Santa Anita Park. Read: "Ritvo, Mucho Macho Man Get Happy Ending in Classic"
8. RICK PITINO. The Louisville coach had a year to remember, if ever there has been one. NCAA championship week for him included election to the Naismith Hall of Fame, a horse qualifying for the Kentucky Derby and winning the title itself. His run took the city of Louisville to the White House, to Springfield, Mass., and to California where his horse, Goldencents, won the Breeders' Cup. If you pictured all that happening when he was mired in scandal several years ago, you were in a great minority. Read: "With Enshrinement, Pitino Takes His Place Among the Greats"
9. GORGUI DIENG. I can't remember a foreign athlete coming into town and making himself a part of the landscape as quickly as Dieng. He'll be on a first-name basis with this city for the rest of his life. Even Pitino considered him more a peer than a player by the time he helped lead the Cardinals to a national championship. His basketball progress was phenomenal. But his winning personality is what will stay with people moving forward.Read: "Profile of a Champion -- Gorgui Dieng"
10. RUSS SMITH. Russdiculous. His unique playing style and personality will always be intertwined. Had he left Louisville after winning a national title his place in the program's history would be complete. His decision to come back, and now his role as a senior leader on a team facing some personnel challenges in its defense of the title makes him something more. He's gone from sideshow to center stage at Louisville. And Cardinal fans will remember him as a serious contributor from now on. Read: "Russ Smith -- From Afterthought to All-American"
11. MONIQUE REID. A four-year starter at U of L and the only player to span both of the program's NCAA championship game appearances (because of an injury), her emotional response to beating Cal and getting back to the title game is one I'll remember for a long time. But let it not be forgotten, after U of L's lead against Baylor had evaporated, when the game was slipping from stunning upset to just another near-miss, it was Reid who drove, was fouled by Brittney Griner, and buried both free throws to win it. She has continued her work in Louisville, as basketball coach at Fern Creek High. Read: "Party Crashers Reach the Championship Game"
12. LUKE HANCOCK.He never really told any of us what his dad was going through, and didn't even hint about it until after Louisville beat Wichita State to reach the NCAA championship game. Then he mentioned his dad, but never did say what exactly what the situation was. Watching him navigate that difficult time, then seeing him say his goodbyes and go off to play overseas for a team representing the U.S., was one of the more remarkable stories of the year. Hancock shies away from the spotlight as much as he can. He's not on social media even in the offseason. That's rare enough to be memorable in itself. But to be the first player ever to come off the bench to be the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four is something folks around here will never forget. Read: "Luke Hancock: Shouldering the Load"
Monday, April 21 2014 12:31 PM EDT2014-04-21 16:31:28 GMT
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