When you talk about athletics at UofL, you have to start with hoops. Basketball is more than a sport played in the cold weather months here in Kentucky. It’s a source of pride filled year-round with anticipation, hope and celebration.
The rich tradition of Cards basketball is a big reason for that.
Coach Bernard “Peck” Hickman laid the foundation for UofL hoops when he arrived on campus in 1944 and started the men’s program on a remarkable four-decade run without a losing season. Players like the great Wes Unseld, Charlie Tyra, Butch Beard and Junior Bridgeman led the way.
Under legendary coach Denny Crum, the program reached dynasty status in the 1980s when the Cards won the NCAA National Championship twice (1980 and 1986) and went to the Final Four four times in six years.
And they did it with style. The 1980 championship team–led by Cardinal great Darrell Griffith and his 48-inch vertical jump–were dubbed the “Doctors of Dunk” for their exploits above the rim. In pre-season practice that year, Louisville forward Derek Smith invented the “high-five” with teammates and fellow Georgians Wiley Brown and Daryl Cleveland. (At least that’s what Smith claimed.)
In recent years, basketball greatness has been found in both the men’s and women’s programs. In 2009, senior All-American Angel McCoughtry, who broke every major UofL basketball record during her amazing career, led the women’s team to the NCAA finals. It was the first time in school history that the women’s team reached the Final Four.
But it has always been more than just basketball at the University of Louisville. This is where the great Johnny Unitas played his college football for head coach Frank Camp. The quarterback completed 245 passes for 3,139 yards at 27 touchdowns for the Cards from 1951 to 1954 before going on to a stellar 18-year career in the NFL. He is widely regarded as the greatest professional quarterback of all time. Also, this is where Lee Corso, now the colorful football analyst for ESPN, started his head-coaching career. He compiled an impressive 28-11-3 record for the Cards from 1969-1972. For a time, UofL was considered “Linebacker U,” producing such greats as Doug Buffone, Tom Jackson and Otis Wilson, who all went on to stellar pro careers. Coach Howard Schnellenberger brought the football program from the brink of extinction in the 1980s, eventually leading the Cards to a 1991 Fiesta Bowl Championship over Alabama. The Cards’ national football profile continued to grow throughout the years, with several stellar seasons and bowl appearances. UofL won its first BCS bowl in 2007, knocking off Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl.
In the late 90s and throughout the 2000s, under the leadership of athletic director Tom Jurich, UofL Athletics became a much more complete program. The school added several sports and gained entrance into the Big East Conference in 2005. From tennis to swimming, track and field to baseball, field hockey to rowing, the Cards now compete at the top level of collegiate athletics.
See who has been inducted into the University of Louisville Athletic Hall of Fame at uoflsports.com/trads/lou-trads-hall-of-fame.html
For a listing of all the Cardinal past champions, check uoflsports.com/trads/lou-trads-past-champions.html
For a listing of University of Louisville All-Americans in every sport, see uoflsports.com/trads/lou-trads-all-americans.html