Louisville is one of the 10 college teams featured in the NBA 2K17 video game, and it should be. From the days of Wes Unseld through Denny Crum and Rick Pitino, the program has been one of the nation’s elite.
The game company paid way too much attention to the recent past in its roster selection, however. Way too much. If the roster was made to appear to a younger audience, OK. But if it was expected to represent the program greats, it was far from complete.
Here is the roster:
And now here are my choices for the team.
There is a starting five of no-doubters
Darrell Griffith — “Dr. Dunkenstein.” Apologies to “Magic” and “Big Country” and “Russdiculous,” but there never has been been a better nickname. Say it loud and it sounds like you’re braying. Say it soft and it’s almost like praying. Dr. Dunkenstein, master practitioner of the ferocious throw-down. In Griffith’s day, no one did it better. He remains the school’s leading season and career scorer, and he led the Cardinals to four NCAA appearances and the 1980 national championship. He was the 1980 college player of the year, and his dunks provided the exclamation points.
Wes Unseld — At 6-foot-7 in high-heel sneakers, Unseld was hardly the tallest center in the world. By the time he got to the NBA, he was one of the shortest. But he was among the most physical. He understood positioning as well as anyone who has ever played the position. He was a two-time consensus All-American who like Griffith was the second player taken in the NBA draft when he left school.
Pervis Ellison — “Never Nervous” Pervis was the most outstanding player while helping Louisville to the 1986 NCAA Tournament as a freshman. Ellison did it with rim protection that season while guard Milt Wagner directed the team, and by the time he left school in 1989 was the school’s career leader in blocked shots, a mark he still holds. He is the only Louisville player to have 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his career. Ellison was the first player taken in the 1989 NBA Draft, and while his pro career was nothing special, his time in college was special.
Junior Bridgeman — Bridgeman was a two-time player of the year in the Missouri Valley Conference in the mid-1970s, a sleek 6-foot-5 forward who was even a better pro after making a smooth transition to small forward/shooting guard in a 12-year NBA career, mostly with Milwaukee.
Butch Beard — Beard is the most glaring omission from the listed NBA 2K17 roster, a gross oversight even considering the talent that the school has produced. Beard was a solid combo guard in the late 1960s and spent nine years in the NBA, helping Golden State to a sweep 1975 NBA title. After being taken in the first round of the 1969 draft, he missed his second season when he worked in the message center at Fort Knox after being drafted. So he’s a good guy, too.
Milt Wagner — Wagner was the glue of the Denny Crum teams of the early 1980s, when the ‘Ville appeared in three Final Fours and made it to the Sweet Sixteen in the other season. All Wagner did was win. The Cardinals were 113-32 in his four seasons, when he started the final 111 games. He hit key free throws in the Cardinals’ 1986 NCAA title game victory over UCLA. He was not a great pro, but he was a great college guard, and that means a lot.
Russ Smith — Look up “shot selection” in the dictionary of antonyms and you will find Russdiculous. He just had to see if it was falling. Enough of Smith’s shots went in that he averaged double-digits the last three of his four seasons, and he teamed with Peyton Siva in a undersized backcourt that led Louisville to the 2013 NCAA title. As unpredictable as Smith was on offense, his thieving defense keyed Louisville’s full-court, harassing style that frazzled opponents into unforced errors. He was the the 2014 Naismith Award winner as the top Division I senior no taller than six feet.
Derek Smith — Smith, a slashing small forward, averaged 15 points and six assists in each of his final three seasons at Louisville, and he was a sophomore on the Darrell Griffith team that won the 1980 NCAA title. Smith averaged 22 points in his third NBA season and was on track for more until a knee injury cut his career short. As a side note, Smith also is credited with popularizing, if not actually inventing, the “high five.” Smith and teammate Wiley Brown slapped hands up high instead of down low — the 1980 Cardinals were the “Doctors of Dunk,” after all — and a trend was born. Smith always used his left hand because his right thumb was amputated when he was a child.
Rodney McCray — McCray was a solid if not spectacular college post player who rebounded, made a high percentage of shots and scored when it was his turn. He averaged 7.5 points and 7.5 rebounds a a freshman on the Cardinals’ 1980 national title team and was a double-digit scorer in his first eight NBA seasons. He finished his career with a 50.3 percent shooting percentage, remarkable for a 6-foot-7 small/power forward.
Billy Thompson — Thompson fit the Cardinal profile — a fluid, athletic forward who was a force around the basket. Thompson averaged 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists in his final two seasons at the ‘Ville, and he also was a member of the 1986 title team. His athleticism played better in college than in the NBA.
Francisco Garcia — Garcia is a walking mismatch, a 6-7 forward who is more effective on the perimeter and beyond the three-point line. He made 180 three-pointers in three years in college and also averaged 3.5 assists per game. He turned his skills into an 11-year NBA career that is just winding down.
Tough to leave off
Montrezl Harrell — If you like ferocious athleticism near the rim, Harrell is your man.
Peyton Siva — Siva is the personification of a pesky college guard, the gnat in your face that just will not go away. He loved making the extra pass. He won the 2013 Naismith Award.
Jim Price — Price averaged 21 points and 3.5 assists a game in 1971-72, way before the three-point line. One of the early greats.
Charlie Tyra — I’d never heard of him, either, but Tyra was a two-time consensus All-American center in 1956-57. He was the second pick in the 1957 NBA Draft.
LaBradford Smith — Another Smith, another solid player. Smith was a steady if underrated guard who averaged 13 points, five assists and three rebounds in a four-year career that concluded in 1991.