Louisville Series Born Through Long-Time Friendship, Family
CofC Athletics Communications
In the world of college athletics, family and friendships still matter. Coaching trees may branch out and siblings enroll at rival universities. But friends take care of one another, and daughters will always root for their fathers.
The men's basketball series between the University of Louisville (6-1, 0-0 BIG EAST) and the College of Charleston (5-2, 1-0 SoCon) is no exception.
When the Cardinals take to John Kresse Court at TD Arena tonight to face off against CofC Head Coach Doug Wojcik's Cougars, it will mark the biggest opportunity in the history of Charleston Basketball.
The Cardinals, ranked No. 5 in the nation in The Associated Press Top 25 Poll and coming off the program's ninth Final Four appearance last season, are the highest-ranked opponent to ever come to Charleston. A victory over the mighty Cards would boost the Cougars resume and set the stage for the Doug Wojcik Era.
It could be that important.
But the three game series, with two in Louisville (including a 69-62 Cardinal victory last season at the KFC Yum! Center) and one here in Charleston, was the result of a long-time friendship, respect and admiration between former CofC Head Coach Bobby Cremins and current Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino.
"Rick and I go way back to the Five-Star days," said Cremins, referring to the basketball camp which both he and Pitino were once actively involved in and has graduated more than 400 NBA and 10,000 Division I players since 1966. "We've know each other a long time. One of my teammates at South Carolina, Tommy Riker, was a teammate of Rick's in high school. Rick also has some connections to the College of Charleston. His daughter, Jacqueline, goes to school here. His son, Richard (current head coach at Florida International University), was on the staff here."
It's often difficult for mid-majors to schedule powerhouse non-conference opponents at home. In fact, without personal connections like these, it's almost impossible. But, the payoff for doing so is monumental. A nationally-televised game grants exposure to the College and ultimately helps with recruiting students and athletes alike.
When Cremins retired last fall, one of the first things he did was shoot an e-mail to Coach Pitino to ask him to honor the series. And, it worked.
"It's something I really appreciate," Cremins said. "Prior to my retirement, I really wanted to coach against Rick here in this game, because it really meant so much to me that he was willing to bring his team to Charleston - especially since this will not be an easy game for him.
"To have a Top 5 team come to Charleston, it's just absolutely incredible. Roy Williams did it for me and now Rick Pitino. I'll never forget that. It just means so much in recruiting and everything else."
Coach Wojcik echoed those sentiments.
"It was really difficult to get BCS schools to come to Tulsa," he said. "Where we are located, the interest in basketball - all those things come into play here in Charleston. Those are the same reasons why the CofC Basketball job is such a good job. We have an opportunity to play a great team and a great coach on our home floor. It makes me smile."
Another person who will be smiling, regardless of the outcome of tonight's game, is Coach Pitino's daughter, Jacqueline who is a junior education major at CofC.
"I will be wearing red for Louisville," she said. "I love my school and greatly respect Charleston Basketball, but my family is No. 1 in my life. Any other game I'll be rooting for the Cougars."
Coach Pitino, to his credit, acknowledges the powerful draw of the College of Charleston.
"Because of their proximity to the beach and to the town, it's a very, very unusual place for a college student to go to school," Pitino told the Courier-Journal before last season's game in Louisville. "If I had to come back (to college), I would put (Charleston) in my Top 3."