School of hard knocks has toughened Cards

Most of the members of Louisville's 33-4 Final Four team didn't enjoy priviledged upbringings. In fact, most of them learned their life lessons at the school of hard knocks. Those experiences have likely contributed to this team's defining characteristic - their toughness.

Most of the members of Louisville's 33-4 Final Four team didn't enjoy priviledged upbringings. In fact, most of them learned their life lessons at the school of hard knocks.

But don't believe for one second that these guys have become jaded because of those tough early experiences on some of America's meanest streets.

Quite the contrary, they've been a joy for Cardinals fan to watch and get to know the past few years. They're beloved for their fun-loving style. Admired for their determination and effort. And they've amazed on-lookers with their will to win, passion to improve, and ability to overcome seemingly all adversity.

Four of Louisville's five starters have faced greater challenges in life than overcoming a 20 point first half deficit against West Virginia.

Consider freshman forward Juan Palacios growing up in the drug-infested streets of Medellin, Columbia. Then consider Francisco Garcia reaching maturity in the tough streets of the Bronx - the same streets where his brother Hector was murdered last year. Taquan Dean's mother died when he was six, and his uncle and grandmother both died soon there after. 6-7 senior Ellis Myles escaped the gang and drug-infested streets of Compton, Ca.

"This is not a privileged team," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "It's a team that has had a lot of problems. To see them get these rewards is just so much fun."

Pitino recruited Garcia, Dean, and Palacios to U of L, and inherited Myles from former coach Denny Crum when he arrived in 2001.

Ellis Myles and Francisco Garcia hope to
ride off into the sunset with a national
championship next Monday in Saint Louis.

"How this team was put together is what amazes me," said Pitino. "To see where these guys came from to where they've risen speaks volumes for how hard they've had to work."

Myles, the Cardinals' leading-rebounder and the heart and soul of the first Louisville team to reach the Final Four since 1986, says he's just happy he made it out Compton.

"I've never lived in the suburbs," Myles said. "Where I come from there's a lot gangs. There used to be shootings, riots after school, and things like that. It was real rough and I'm just glad I'm in the situation that I'm in today. "I used basketball as an outlet to get away from those kinds of things."

Dean and Garcia's stories have been well-documented. And it's probably because of those early hard times and life experiences where these Cardinals developed their defining trait - their toughness.

"None of us really had anything in life," added Myles. "We have no McDonald's All-Americans, we're just kids from the streets. We just go out there and try to get the job done."

"We're convinced that we are mentally tough, and that nothing can get under our skin," Myles added. "We just go out there and play harder than the other team on the court."

Faced with the possibility of elimination last Saturday in Albuquerque against the Mountaineer's, Dean said following the Cardinals 93-85 overtime win that he prayed repeatedly to his deceased mother to give him the strength to fight through the pain and fatigue his body felt late in the game. And you can be certain his other teammates drew upon their life experiences to find the necessary strength to overcome a hot-shooting opponent.

"They have a never give up attitude, and we've seen it so many times from this team," Pitino said. "They've had so much adversity to overcome. Whether it's been physical injuries or foul trouble, somebody has always stepped up for us. I just think they're very resilient, very tough-minded. They're tough kids. I just sit back and marvel at what they accomplish."

Now, despite overcoming odds much greater than any they've faced on the basketball court, Garcia, Dean, Myles, Palacios, and teammates have an opportunity to reach the most priviledged distinction college basketball can bestow - NCAA Champions.

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