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Nor was Hancock afraid in the instant after Ware's leg snapped on March 31: He leaped up from the bench to comfort his brother, while many of his teammates, as Ware put it, were "spooked out" by the sight, either bawling or collapsed or both.
Hancock put his hand on Ware's chest and said a prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, please watch over Kevin in this tough time. We just want him to know that You're here with him, and that everything will be all right.... After they said "Amen," in unison, Ware found the strength to urge the Cardinals to win.
And what drove Hancock to act? If it was me, he thought, I wouldn't want to be alone.
Last April, Hancock separated his right shoulder in a pickup game, an injury so brutal that Louisville trainer Fred Hina said, "I've never seen so much damage in my life." What Hancock remembers most about the injury was how the Cardinals' director of operations, Andre McGee, had rushed to his side and gone with him to the hospital. Hancock had not been left alone. He wanted to pay that forward.
That helping instinct was pervasive throughout Louisville's championship season. When 6'11" junior center Gorgui Dieng broke his left (nonshooting) wrist on Nov. 23 in the Battle 4 Atlantis and couldn't play in the finals against Duke, he didn't sulk—he spent his time counseling backup Stephan Van Treese on how to stay down and defend Blue Devils star Mason Plumlee. And three days after the Cardinals returned from that tournament in the Bahamas, forward Chane Behanan, who'd struggled against Duke, sent Dieng this text: Gorgui Wats up brother!! With you being out its going to be a tough one for the team but I will fill your place until you come back. Block shots, rebounds, deflections, dunks and all that so you don't have to worry about anything! Get better and come back a different person! The new Gorgui Dieng!!
He signed it "Chane Dieng Behanan." Two games later, a three-point win over Illinois State on Dec. 1, Behanan made the crucial defensive play by pinning Jackie Carmichael's shot against the backboard in the final minute. On Dec. 29 against Kentucky, in Dieng's first game back, Behanan's late steal-and-slam clinched another three-point victory. And on Monday night, when Dieng had four fouls, it was Behanan who grabbed seven offensive boards and demoralized Michigan's front line. "I saw fear in their eyes," he said, "and I kept going at them."
The backbone of this brotherhood is Siva, a point guard from a large and troubled Samoan family, who has long demonstrated his ability to take care of others. At age 13, he borrowed an older brother's car and drove the streets of Seattle, searching for his father, Peyton Sr., who had a gun and was suicidal. He persuaded his dad to throw the gun away, and then helped him recover from an addiction to crystal meth.
For his second family, Siva serves as a leader-counselor, the one his teammates go to for help on everything from plays to class work, and the one who serves as a relentlessly positive counterbalance to Pitino's fiery critiques. The Cardinals' chaplain, Father Ed Bradley, is one of Siva's many admirers. "At halftime, when Rick really gets on someone," Bradley says, "Rick will leave first and go to the coaches' room. Peyton will go over [to that guy] and say, 'Listen, it's O.K.' He's like a cheerleader of his teammates."
If Siva did not need growing up at Louisville, having arrived already a man, the Cardinals' Smith and Dieng certainly did. They both arrived on campus as unheralded prospects in 2010, one from Brooklyn and the other from Senegal by way of Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, and they were full of despair as freshmen for different reasons. Dieng had left his parents and seven siblings behind in Africa to chase a basketball dream, but he was crippled by his inability to communicate—or learn from Pitino—in English. "I used to sit in my room and cry big tears," says Dieng, a native Wolof speaker. "I was frustrated. You can't talk to anybody. You don't understand what they are saying."
Smith cried in his dorm room because—as you might imagine from seeing the way he attacks the basket—he had no patience and was struggling through injuries, Pitino's criticism and almost nonexistent playing time. Smith would send texts to his mother, Paulette O'Neal, telling her, I wanna go home ... I am not happy here—and she would reply, There's nothing back here [in Brooklyn] for you to do. He went to the extent of packing up all his belongings with the intent to quit on Jan. 26, 2011, before a home game against West Virginia, but teammate Rakeem Buckles persuaded him to attend the game, and a short stint of playing time—in which he went 1 for 7 in 12 minutes—somehow persuaded Smith to stay.