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IN 1986 "NEVER NERVOUS" PERVIS ELLISON, A FRESHMAN CENTER, LED LOUIÿILLE TO THE NATIONAL TITLE. LATER, AFTER A RECORD-BREAKING CARDINALS CAREER, HE SPENT 11 YEARS IN THE NBA.
SI What made the 1986 team so special?
PE Leadership from our seniors Jeff Hall, Billy Thompson, Robbie Valentine and Milt Wagner. They were the catalysts of that team. I was the MVP of the Final Four, but if you look at the NCAA tournament, those guys were the leaders.
SI What was the environment like?
PE Coach [Denny] Crum had Final Four experience and knew to isolate us during the tournament. Still, being curious teenagers, we wanted to venture out. One day I came down to the hotel lobby by myself, which we weren't supposed to do, and I got swarmed by fans. It got so bad that security had to come down. That was the last time I ever did that.
SI Where does winning the title rank on your list of achievements?
PE From a sports perspective, Number 1. It's the culmination of all the hard work you've put in throughout the year. It's looking at the joy in the other guys' faces and knowing you were able to accomplish something together.
SI What impresses you about this year's team?
PE The way that those guys stuck together. That's a cliché that you hear about a lot of clubs, but it really applies to this team, this year. They are led by one of the top five coaches in the country in Coach [Rick] Pitino. His vision and work ethic . . . his imprint is all over that ball club. The way Kevin Ware handled his leg injury and the way the team reacted to it shows their focus. Even when Kevin broke his leg, even though he was wrought with pain, his focus was still on the team goal. That resonated with the ball club when they came over to the sideline.
SI You played for Coach Crum, of course, and also for Pitino over two seasons with the Celtics. What coaching advice do you give your AAU and high school players today that you absorbed from those men?