Just like that, Louisville's postseason aspirations for the 2015-16 are gone. On Friday afternoon, just after the lunch hour, the University of Louisville announced a self-imposed one-year postseason ban effectively immediately.
For a program that has annual ACC and National Championship goals, missing the opportunity to reach for both this season stings. For a team who's makeup is primarily underclassmen and a pair of fifth-year transfers, the lost chance to chase their dream, is downright painful.
Because of those factors, U of L's Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino, who's team is currently 18-4 overall and sit in sole possession of second place in the ACC, described the penalty "as harsh as any that I've seen."
While the remainder of the team will be able to resume their postseason goals next season, for Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, the Cardinals two fifth-year transfers, the career as Cardinals will come to abrupt end when the team visits Virginia on March 5.
Holding back tears as he spoke of the pair's unfortunate fate, Pitino explained that his players immediately began to comfort the two when learning of the news on Tuesday morning.
"As I told them the penalty, they all stood up and just started hugging Damion and Trey as they cried," he said.
Pitino recalled the start of his tenure at Kentucky in 1989, when the Wildcats were serving a multi-year post-season ban due to multiple violations committed under the Eddie Sutton regime, including cash payments and a falsified ACT score, a time that Pitino said was described to him as "the lowest point in Kentucky history," as an example of how a community can rally around each other in difficult times.
Despite their on-court achievements, the fans and players knew that the end would come sooner than earned because of the prior violations, but the support still remained. Those probation-riddled teams during Pitino's first two seasons enjoyed "the largest crowds in Kentucky history and the team wasn't going anywhere."
Pitino hopes that Lee and Lewis experience a similar response from CardNation.
"The lesson that I learned about that was, the support, during a difficult time, from the fans," he said. "Damian and Trey have nothing. Nothing to look forward to, future-wise right now. They were hit over the head with a sledgehammer and they're devastated, as well as the rest of the team, for actions they weren't involved with. They came here to go far in the tournament. They've done their job. They've captured the imagination of our fans. They have led a basketball team with an attitude, second to none."
The team, which has gone by the mantra, "I've got your back," since the start of the season, is one that was beginning to discover it's full potential at just the right time - a trait common with Pitino coached teams - but is now in need of the fans to have their back.
"This is not a team that was not going to make the tournament," said Pitino. "This is a team that was favored to go quite far in the tournament."
Now, as reality sits in, this Cardinal season, no matter the expectations and hopes of yesterday, will come a painful halt in just nine more games, just four at the KFC Yum! Center. That's it, as the University has decided that they are declining any invitation to a dance this March for these Cardinals.
"The final four home games is all they have left and it is up to our fans, and our administration of our university, to left them up, as high as they can be lifted," Pitino said. "Along with the rest of the members of this basketball team who have just given me so much personal satisfaction and happiness. So, I call for our fans to come out to our final four games in full force to honor not only Damian and Trey, but it is all that we have left to look forward to this season."
Up next for Louisville is a Saturday noon tip-off against Boston College, before hitting the road for games at Duke and Notre Dame.
"Come out in full force tomorrow in support of these incredible young men," said Pitino.