And though his name was omitted from the All-Tourney list in Memphis, 6-7 Ellis Myles was without question Louisville's unsung hero during the Cardinals march to their second C-USA title the past three seasons.
A fifth-year senior from Compton, California, Myles is playing the best basketball of his career right now. While his scoring numbers don't jump off the stat sheet, he needs just three points to become the 57th player in U of L history to score 1,000 career points. And though he's known primarily as a fierce rebounder and the team's tough guy in the paint, it's his passing ability that keyed Louisville to a championship this weekend.
"Taquan Dean was the MVP, and he's the best shooter in the country," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said, "but from a coaching standpoint, every play that we run (goes) through Ellis Myles."
"Not to put down Taquan or Francisco, but we'd be a .500 team without Ellis – maybe a little better than that, we'd still be a good team," added Pitino. "(But) in our offense, he makes every pass – every backdoor lob, every handoff – he handles it."
Ellis Myles was a big reason Louisville won the
C-USA Tournament this weekend in Memphis
"Ellis and Francisco (Garcia) had 13 assists between them," said Pitino. "Ellis had eight, and Francisco five. And when you have shooters like Taquan, Larry O'Bannon and Francisco, it just bodes well for our offense. Our players know how valuable he is to our team."
Pitino called Myles one the best and smartest players in the country. Not only his passing, but his ability to bring the ball up court when the Cardinals faced pressure present big problems for opponents defensively. His versatility at the center position, according to Pitino, allows the Cardinals flexibility with their offense.
"We can run 25 or 30 different things (in our offense) because Ellis is one of the smarter players in the country as well as one of the better ones," Pitino said.
And though Myles had 22 assists during the tournament, his last dime against Memphis – the one that led to O'Bannon's go ahead three-pointer with 28 seconds - was his biggest.
"It was a counter play and we ran it to perfection," Pitino said. "It was going to go to Francisco originally (but) Larry was coming off all night being open with it. But everything we do (Ellis) is going to have a big hand in every play. It's very easy to sit there and diagram about 100 different plays during the course of a game when you have Ellis Myles."
Perhaps still haunted by his late foul against Kentucky earlier this season that allowed Patrick Sparks to go to the line with no time left on the clock to give the Wildcats the game's deciding points, Myles' said his mind turned back to that December day when Memphis freshman guard Darius Washington went to the line Saturday afternoon to attempt three free-throws with 0.00 remaining with Louisville clinging to a 75-73 lead.
"The only thing I could think about was fouling (Patrick) Sparks in the Kentucky game and him going to the line and making the free throws," Myles said. "It was like Déjà vu. When he (Washington) made the first one, I kind of got thinking, ‘Dang, he might make these next two.' But then after he missed the next one I thought we had a chance to go into overtime."
And Myles' thoughts when Washington's third and final attempt missed its intended mark giving the Cardinals a 75-74 win?
"It's over. We won. Let's party," a relieved Myles said.
There were plenty of Louisville fans ready to party too. The good thing for the Cardinals, though, is there figures to be much more partying in store in the future.