On Friday, after the day had essentially ended and I had packed up for a weekend spent celebrating my friend's wedding, bad news emerged from Louisville. As Dana O'Neil reported, and Cardinals coach Rick Pitino announced, senior guard Mike Marra once again had torn his ACL, the same injury that robbed him of all but two games in the 2011-12 season:
Marra was pivoting and trying to make a pass early in practice when he was injured, coach Rick Pitino said in a statement.
An MRI is scheduled for Saturday, but Pitino told WHAS 840-AM radio in Louisville that Marra re-tore his ACL. It's the same injury that sidelined Marra for all but two games during the Cardinals' run to the Final Four last season.
"An unfortunate thing happened today," Pitino told the radio station. "We've been working Mike Marra out individually for the past two months and he'd passed all the tests. Literally in the first 10 minutes of practice, he blew out the same knee with an ACL."
The wedding on Saturday was a fantastic time, and not just because I think weddings are almost always a blast. It was also fun because my friend is from Louisville, and his high school friends and family are an excellent group of people divided into rowdy thirds: Indiana, Kentucky, and Louisville fans. Naturally, I spent a lot of time talking about basketball. You don't talk about much else, hanging with those guys, not in 2012, not with the UL-UK rivalry brimming with hatred, not with all three teams perched near or at the top of the college hoops landscape. When I wasn't dancing to the Isley Brothers' "Shout," I was usually talking about basketball.
It was somewhere during Saturday evening's festivities, having spoken with a variety of folks about it, that I realized there are two ways of looking at Marra's injury.
The first is within the context of Louisville's upcoming season. In this view, Marra's injury is an obviously unfortunate but otherwise sidelong occurrence. Kentucky fans tried to convince me that Louisville desperately needed outside shooting, and they're right. But my response was that Pitino's team still won the Big East tournament title and went to the Final Four without much in the way of efficient offense, let alone outside shooting, and that losing Marra was hardly a disqualifier when it comes to projecting a repeat performance.
But when you talked to Louisville fans about it, their concern was about more than the upcoming season. Nearly all of them were genuinely gutted by the news. It wasn't just about the basketball, about the national title hopes, about crude lineup calculus. It was about a guy who had fought for nearly 12 months to return to the game and finish his career, and who had that return -- his rightful and deserved payoff after what must have been an excruciating year -- immediately and ruthlessly taken from him. After missing a Final Four run, he didn't even get to enjoy the nonconference season, or get to fling shots up at Midnight Madness, or any of it. And now, not only is Marra's season lost, his career is almost certainly over, too.
Perhaps the only redeeming thing about this injury is the way Marra has handled it. According to WDRB's Eric Crawford (via Pitino), Marra told Louisville trainer Fred Hine, "You know, Fred, it wasn't meant to be. So I'll get a head start on coaching."
If that was me, I'd be cursing the fates, shaking my fist at the basketball gods, and all the rest of it. But Marra is taking his utter misfortune -- and there is no other way to describe it -- in stride.
That's a unique thing about college athletics, even in the high-profile one-and-done hoops era: When you join a program with fans like Louisville's (or Kentucky's or Indiana's or any of the other major hoops-obsessed programs across the country), you essentially join a family. Things may not always be hunky-dory, and every family has black sheep. But if you give yourself over to your teammates and coaches and fans, they will love you forever in return.
So it is with Mike Marra. He may not have been a crucial part of Louisville's 2012-13 run. Or maybe he would have been. We don't know. But I do know that Louisville fans will always love him, and will always wish it had ended any other way than this. It's not the same kind of love you feel at a wedding, surrounded by friends and family, slapping backs and catching up and toasting to better days ahead. But it's not all that different, either.