He and Dieng and the Lexington-raised Baffour, whom Smith calls Dark Slime (which means "black best friend" in Smith-ese), became an unlikely trio of buddies, and as Dieng grasped English—one of five languages in which he's now fluent—he began dispensing the wisdom that he is now known for. "Just relax," Dieng would say to Smith. "Your time will come."
Two years later, the former two-star recruit was the best player on the best team in the NCAA tournament, while Dieng was the anchor of its frontcourt, and they and Dark Slime, who held up the end of the bench, stayed up late in hotels in New York, Lexington, Indianapolis and Atlanta, talking about basketball and life, cherishing what may be their final trips together as collegians.
They were there to console Smith after his beloved high school coach and mentor, Jack Curran—"the first person to trust me as a player"—passed away at age 82 on the morning of Louisville's Big East tournament quarterfinal. (Smith dedicated the game to Curran and scored 28 points against Villanova.) They would talk strategy and scouting reports, with Dieng advising Smith to be patient early on against Duke (to first assess its defensive strategy) and aggressive against Wichita State (to try to set a tone against a defense that wanted to wall up). And they made fun of each other: Dieng, for being terrified of the bomb-sniffing dogs that inspect their luggage before games ("Gorgui puts his bag down and hides on the other side of the room," Baffour says); Smith, for using their entire allotment of hotel towels when he showers ("Do you think you are some kind of prince?" Dieng asks).
And when Dieng drifted off to sleep, Smith stayed up, doing push-ups and whatever else he deemed necessary to burn off his nervous energy. The group text-message thread was his creation, and as Hancock says, "95 percent of it is nonsense, and most of it is Russ, at all hours." Dieng, whom they've gradually Americanized by desensitizing him to excessive use of electronics, is amused by it—but he has his limits. "Sometimes your phone just keeps going off, and you can't sleep," he says. "And then I tell Russ to stop." The only sure-fire way to silence Russ Smith at night, Dieng says, is to just shut your phone off altogether.
For 16 straight games, no one had found a way to silence Louisville, and late on Monday night the Cardinals fans in the crowd saved their greatest roar for the moment when one of the Georgia Dome rims was lowered so that Ware, leaning on his crutches, could cut down the remainder of the net. The party around him will eventually break up—Smith's dad, Big Russ, said after the game that his son was gone to the pros; Dieng already had his senior night as a junior; and Siva will be graduating—leaving Ware to endure the long recovery process without many of his brothers. But he will hardly be alone.
In the locker room Ware sat with the net around his neck and told the throng of reporters, "I'm gonna let my dog play with [the net]. Hopefully he don't bite it up.... I can't wait to get back tomorrow and see him."
Lest we forget, Scar was waiting for Ware back in Louisville. He had fallen instantly in love with the pit bull pup, his girlfriend says, after what happened when they met last Tuesday: "It was like Scar could sense Kevin was hurting," Kelly says, "so he went right up to him, crawled onto his chest and fell asleep." A dog with the instinct to help a brother in need? Ware knew, right then, that Scar would make a fine Louisville Cardinal.