LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The word “champion” doesn’t appear anywhere on the championship-style rings the University of Louisville gave to graduate transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis after they played their final home game Tuesday night.

The pair will get to go to the Final Four, as part of the NABC Senior All-Star Game in Houston on Final Four weekend, but the “One Shining Moment” video the school prepared was just an approximation for a group won’t get to play in the postseason.

It was an effort to create a shining moment out of a bittersweet one. The video also was, no doubt, difficult for the 22,000 people who stayed after Louisville’s 56-53 win over Georgia Tech to watch the senior ceremonies, because those folks have been through the real thing.

But not all the shining in college sports happens on the court. We all know, some things have happened at Louisville that should not have happened, and a price has to be paid, including the school’s decision to impose its own ban on the upcoming postseason. How much those violations touch this particular team, we don’t know.

We do know they didn’t touch Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. Those two guys, in particular, had nothing to do with any of the alleged activities. All they’ve done is come in and lift people up, their coach, their teammates, each other, and the university itself, representing it at ACC media day, and again the very day the ban was announced.

Think about this. As part of the school’s “One Shining Moment” video, the words of Lewis and Lee to reporters the day that ban was announced actually made the cut.

When you can do something that that takes one of the program’s darkest days, yet shines so brightly it makes a highlight compilation, well, you’ve done something rare, indeed.

Rick Avare, Pitino’s longtime business advisor, told the coach that God would give him a hand in navigating through the aftermath of this scandal and in doing the best things for his players.

“I said, can you ask God to send us another hand, please?” Pitino said. “He did give me another hand, though. He gave me Trey Lewis and Damion Lee.”

There is, outside the program, some cynicism about these two. They left other programs to come here. But they fulfilled obligations to those programs and earned degrees. And they showed up in Louisville and, with few exceptions, laid out a blueprint for being good teammates and good people.

If you can’t appreciate the way they have handled themselves throughout all of this season, and the desire of Pitino and the program to provide them some kind of token after the decision of school administrators to take the postseason away, I’m not sure what to tell you, except that sports without life application are pretty meaningless.

The shine on this moment, for these two players, is a different kind of luster. But it may be of an even more meaningful kind than we’re used to seeing in sports.

“It was all very nice,” Lee said after the game. “Very emotional. I don’t know if we played our best basketball. But we’ve always given our best.”

“You think you can handle the emotion of it all,” Lewis said. “Then you get out there and there’s a lump in your throat. I couldn’t make a shot to save my life. But this has been the best basketball season of my life.”

I was a little surprised Pitino consented to having a “One Shining Moment” video commissioned, because I know how much watching that video each season means to him, and never more than when he’s had a team reach the Final Four.

He agreed to it, however, because he wanted Lee and Lewis to experience some kind of moment, with that video and song.

He said he doesn’t plan to watch the tournament this season. (I didn’t get a chance to ask him if he’d fielded offers to do TV analysis.) He will go to the Big Ten Tournament to watch his son Richard’s Minnesota team.

He’s going to Tampa for a couple of days with friends. He’ll have friends and family in Miami for a couple of weeks.

He said that he had Louisville sports information director Kenny Klein let him look at the video beforehand, because he knew he’d be emotional watching it.

“If we go to the Final Four, it could've been me,” Pitino said. “We thought we could get there; now look, there's 20 teams that think they're going to get there this year. The first time I watched that I cried like a baby because none of us are going to get the experience of fighting. You know, my favorite time, even in the pros, was March Madness. I just missed it so darn much. I'm going to get the brackets, do one show and I'm not turning it on. I'm not going to watch, I'm just going to hope for the best and some of my friends maybe have a chance to win it."

Lee and Lewis weren’t the only ones who said farewell. Pitino presented going-away gifts to assistant coach Ralph Willard.

“H’s been my best friend for life,” Pitino said. “He's needed surgery three or four times and I kept saying when we self-imposed 'now go get it done so you can enjoy your summer.’ He said, ‘No, I'm going to stay with you.’ And I said, 'Ralph, I'm going to be fine.’ He said, 'I'm staying with you. I'm staying with the team.’ In life, you all know if you have a best friend like that it's pretty darn special and I'm very lucky. . . . The fans have been absolutely great. Our players always speak about the fans and how much they love them, and they give their love back which is something that we really won't forget as a basketball team."
The game didn’t mean a whole lot. Lee and Lewis were pressing a bit too much. 

Chinanu Onuaku was the difference, and at the end of the senior ceremony, he faked a playful grab at the microphone, a nod to the fact that he will head to the NBA Draft Combine and an NBA workout and whether he will return, after his fantastic finish to the season, is very much up in the air. He watched Montrezl Harrell come back for a junior season and go in the second round. He has much to think about.

Lee and Lewis struggled for long stretches of the game. They wound up a combined 6-24 from the field, and 1-of-10 from three-point range.

Not many people will remember that.

They will remember what Lewis and Lee left here in the way of leadership, and in the example of how to stand up in the middle of a dark moment, and continue to shine.


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