CRAWFORD | Bellarmine offers change of pace from high-dollar, hi - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Bellarmine offers change of pace from high-dollar, high-profile hoops

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — There's a bit of a running question I encounter from time to time, and it usually starts like this: “Why are you covering Bellarmine so much?”

I'm all too happy to answer. In fact, I'm going to answer it right here. It only partially has to do with Bellarmine's coach and players being good guys, regular people, even, who have interesting stories and are happy to tell them outside of a news conference setting.

Actually, I'm going to let Reece Gaines answer it. Gaines was an All-American at the University of Louisville. He was the 15th pick in the draft the year Lebron James went No. 1. He's now an assistant coach at Bellarmine, and a good one. Last week, after a bad practice in preparation for the NCAA Midwest Regional, the players shuffled in to watch film expecting the worst, and Gaines simply rolled the last 30 seconds of their conference championship loss to Drury from the previous weekend and walked out to let them think about it.

Effective use of video.

Gaines got up in the locker room before the Knights' NCAA Division II Midwest Regional final against Indianapolis Tuesday night and wanted to say something. It was off the pregame script. The team wound up being late for its pregame warm-ups. But both Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport and his players said what Gaines said was important them.

He told them, “I've been at every level, college, NBA. I've never been around a group like this, where nobody is thinking about a contract, or trying to get to a better draft position, or improving their numbers to get more attention. I've never been a part of a group that plays for each other the way you do.”

Gaines got a bit choked up. He told them not only that he believed in them, but that he needed to believe in them.

“You usually don't see him shed a tear,” sophomore Rusty Troutman said. “I think it affected all of us.”

CRAWFORD | Long bus ride spurred Bellarmine's Elite Eight run

Kentucky is a great team. The Wildcats play unselfish basketball. There's not a negative thing I can say about them. Covering a national championship won by that team will be a privilege, should it happen. I don't forget that.

But that team is behind the ropes. All season, you get UK players after games, and they stand them up on little risers (to help videographers who are trying to shoot them). When you talk to them, it's in a group setting.

When it comes to basketball, they are the one percent. (And soon, when they go into the NBA Draft, they'll be in the literal one percent.)

At both Louisville and Kentucky, the coaches make great copy. But they're not at the grocery store the night before a road trip buying snacks for the team like Davenport.

At Bellarmine, you've got guys who are hungry just to play. You've got a guy like Corbin Maynard, an undersized guard from DeSales High School who talked his way onto Bellarmine's team because he wouldn't take no for an answer.

You've got Michael Parrish, an even more undersized guard, who came to Davenport's camp while still a high school student at Fern Creek and never went away. His mother worked herself silly, and probably has enough of a working knowledge of Federal grant and financial aid programs to get certified in something. Parrish can remember nights growing up when they carted water home from a neighbor's house, or had to run an extension cord next door until the electric bill got paid. His mother worked until she got her kids out of that situation. But there were desperate times. When Davenport brought him on his coaches show and gave him the surprise of a scholarship this past January, there weren't many dry eyes in the house. Every time that player comes into the game and makes a play — and he does make plays — you can't help but think of that story.

Jake Thelen doesn't look like an All-American basketball player. You wouldn't peg him as a near 70-percent shooter from the field if you were sizing the team up as it gets off the bus. But Thelen passes, rebounds, and scores — largely because his teammates are hyper-aware of him.

You don't see that in elite college basketball much. You don't see teams so aware of their best scorer that they can find him in a sliver of daylight.

And most of these guys, as the NCAA commercial likes to say, will go pro in something other than sports.

The vast majority of Kentucky players who get regular minutes were high school All-Americans. Some of them came to where they are unexpectedly. They all worked uncommonly hard. But they are pros playing a college game. Recently Karl Anthony-Towns received a ton of praise for being seen walking to an early-morning class after arriving back in Lexington well after midnight from a road game. And that's great. I'm glad he did.

There are guys a lot of places who do that for four years. And nobody says a word. Years back, Bellarmine had a starting center who missed Saturday road games because he was unwilling to miss labs back in Louisville. His rationale — his main job was school. He wasn't going to play pro basketball.

As a writer, these stories, and the access granted to tell them, are every bit as compelling as those that happen on the bigger stage. Not as many people will read them. But when you get to be my age, you've told the canned stories a hundred times. When you're able to tell something different, something real, that's where the real fun of the job begins.

Bellarmine will begin play on Wednesday in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in Evansville, Ind.

It's a team with a real chance to win the school's second national championship.

Gaines told the players in the locker room that night, he'd never seen a group of players whose sole motivation was to play for each other, to play as one, not because they were going pro, but because they loved the game.

It shows in the way this team plays. It shows in the way its players interact with each other. They come to Bellarmine because they like the way the game is played there. They show up ready to pass the ball and rotate on defense. They take pride in those things.

It is college basketball with the emphasis as much on the college as the basketball.

I kind of laughed to myself after a news conference during the regional at Bellarmine. After they finished, three Bellarmine players made their way through the press room and thanked everyone in attendance.

Covering Louisville and Kentucky is a great privilege and it's a lot of fun.

But there's a reason I keep writing about the team from Bellarmine. These guys deserve more attention than they get — but in getting this chance to play college basketball at a championship level, they'd tell you they've already gotten more than they deserve.

It's a difference of perspective. But it's a perspective that is worth sharing. Their Elite Eight games in Evansville, Ind., aren't far away. They deserve support. And the style of basketball they play is worth it.

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