LOUISVILLE (AP) — Trey Lewis and Damion Lee have remained upbeat as their college careers near an unexpected ending.
The graduate transfers arrived at Louisville with goals of playing in the NCAA Tournament, a quest that appeared to be a lock before the school announced a self-imposed postseason ban on Feb. 5 after an investigation into an escort’s book allegations of being hired for strip shows at the team’s dormitory discovered that violations did occur.
Several investigations are still pending.
But their college careers likely will be over before those reviews end.
Their postseason dreams suddenly dashed, Lee and Lewis have tried to salvage Louisville’s suddenly shortened season by helping them compete for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title. Though that seems more challenging for the 11th-ranked Cardinals (22-7, 11-5 ACC) after Saturday’s loss at first-place Miami, the veterans’ roles in leading a young roster and keeping them in the hunt has given the duo some solace.
It hasn’t erased questions of what could have been in the postseason. But both players have cited their faith in helping them see the good in a situation they did not create.
“You’re torn in a way, because of course you want to play in the tournament and want all these things to happen,” Lewis said Monday. “But then you see all the good that’s happened, people coming together (and) supporting each other and you feel loved. …
“But as a leader, you’ve got to keep a straight face, stay composed and lead your troops.”
Lee and Lewis have done so and figure to be front and center in Tuesday’s home finale against Georgia Tech (17-12, 7-9) and Saturday’s regular season finale at No. 3 Virginia. They’ve been 1-2 in scoring all season for the Cardinals, with Lee averaging 16.3 points per game and Lewis next at 11.7 in one of the nation’s most competitive leagues.
Things haven’t always smooth, and Louisville is just 4-3 since the ax fell. But Lee has enjoyed the ride along with fan support, even though it recently delayed a recent meal out with his mother.
“I said I’d buy dinner if were less than 20 people asking for a picture or autograph,” said Lee, who needs seven points to reach 2,000 in a career that included three seasons and two injuries at Drexel. “It was maybe 15 minutes and there was maybe 30 people came up and stopped me and it was like an assembly line. That’s something I wouldn’t have had the chance to get if I hadn’t come here.”
Not to mention, having his mother pay up by springing for dinner at a Buffalo wing chain.
Lee and Lewis have also been Louisville’s faces and voices before playing one official minute, fielding questions about the team’s mindset and outlook about the scandal during last fall’s ACC’s media day. Neither player expressed opinions on Monday about disciplinary alternatives to what Louisville chose, focusing more on enjoying the present.
Cardinals coach Rick Pitino cited their poise and composure for helping the roster come together and provide one of his most satisfying seasons as a coach.
“The biggest disappointment I’ve had with them is the fact that I’ve only been able to coach them for one year,” said Pitino, who will honor Lewis, Lee and walk-on Dillon Avare in a pregame ceremony.
The Hall of Fame coach believes both players will get a chance to pursue their dream of playing professionally and foresees coaching in Lewis’ future.
Pitino’s immediate goal right now is savoring these final games with in a rollercoaster season that began with uncertainty before the Cardinals took flight behind his one-and-dones and developed into possible tournament contenders.
The penalty turned that scenario into a big what-if, but Pitino is grateful for the experience and direction Lewis and Lee provided. The duo is certainly happy for the opportunity to play another year even though it didn’t end the way they had hoped.
Lee said it’s disappointing not to be playing in the postseason, saying, “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. But it’s one of those situations where you just roll with the punches. Things happen in life, and sometimes people that aren’t involved in things have to pay for it.
“But we’re all mature and I feel like this has helped us come together as a team and grow as individuals.”