By Benjamin Lampkin
Orlando, Fla. — For three University of Louisvilleseniors, the shock and disbelief of losing to Xavier University inthe first round of the NCAA Tournament soon gave way to thedisappointment of having played their final college basketballgames for the red and black.
Luke Whitehead, Alhaji Mohammed Jr., and Kendall Dartez departfrom the Cardinal program having seen the highest of highs, thelowest of lows, and just about everything in between. With theircollege careers now officially over, the task of sifting throughyears’ of memories to express their feelings was on hand forthe three seniors late Friday night.
“Right now I can’t even explain what’s goingthrough my mind. Right now it hasn’t even hit me that welost, and this is my last college game,” said Mohammed.”Maybe later it will hit me, but I didn’t expectthis.”
“I feel like I’m leaving with the program in bettershape than when I got here, but it’s tough to even thinkabout that right now because I’m hurting, and theteam’s hurting,” said Whitehead. “I definitelyfelt like I got the most out of my college career. It was a greatsituation the whole way through. I learned a lot and made a lot ofreally good friends. I definitely cherish my experiencehere,” he added.
“I’m upset, but we tried. Everybody tried theirbest. It just didn’t happen,” said Dartez.”I’m just going to move on and look forward to myfuture. I was proud to play for Louisville.”
Though the trio didn’t make shock waves with their play inthe final game (Whitehead led the way for the three with 15 pointsand four rebounds), head coach Rick Pitino complemented the hardwork and dedication they gave him.
“They’ve worked hard, especially Luke. He’sbeen a hard worker,” said Pitino. “Alhaji was a walk-onand Kendall was a junior college player. They did their best. Theygave me everything they could give me and that’s all a coachcan ask.”
For Whitehead, whose four-year odyssey at Louisville ended lateFriday in central Florida, the chance to make a positivecontribution to the program and help U of L rise in the nationalranks is something he regards with pride.
“That’s why it hurts so bad losing here today. Theprogram has been going upward so much and it still it is.We’ve gotten used to not liking to lose,” saidWhitehead. “When I first got here it was regular, maybewe’d win, maybe we’d lose. Now that I’m a senior,I’ve gotten more comfortable with winning and it just reallyhurts to lose tonight.”
Mohammed can credit Pitino with giving him the opportunity toplay basketball at this level and develop his game beyond thehighlight reel dunks he provided over his three seasons.
“He’s meant everything to me. He’s stayed onme from day one since I’ve been here. He told me when I firstcame to just work hard and you’ll play and that’s whatI’ve tried to come in and do,” said Mohammed aboutPitino’s influence. “It’s been a great experiencefor me and hopefully it’s not over. Hopefully I can continueto play.”
For all three, continuing to play basketball and being able toutilize their education is what is on their minds for thefuture.
“I’m going to continue to play basketball andhopefully I can get somewhere,” said Mohammed.”I’m going to try and get some help from Coach and mybrother but I’m not going to stop trying.”
“I’m just going to finish out school, get my degreeand work on my game and see where it takes me,” saidWhitehead.
“Probably go back home and get a job,” Dartez addedin regards to his future.
The pain was still there, but ruminating on the good memorieswas something each player savored.
“I’ll remember my sophomore year when we came backon Tennessee. I was hoping that could happen tonight, but wedidn’t do it,” Mohammed said.
“Just hanging out with the fellas. That’s probablymy best memory,” said Dartez. “Just hanging out withthe guys.”
“The Conference USA championship, that was definitely thehighlight moment in my career,” said Whitehead. “We wonthe championship (last year) and it was our first Conference USAchampionship. It showed how the program is coming back tolife.”
Life has definitely begun for these three Cardinals. Basketballmay or may not be in their futures, but their past will be filledwith great memories of wearing the red and black.