By all accounts, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino attempted to make light of a 61-point blowout win over Savannah State during a postgame press conference.
When asked how he went about trying to retard running up the score, Pitino — who has won two national championships at basketball powers Louisville and Kentucky during his decorated career — played the role of standup comedian during his response.
“I tried everything,” he said. “I mean, we played four white guys and an Egyptian. We tried everything.”
Pitino was referring to David Levitch, Dillon Avare and Trent Gilbert, and freshmen Matz Stockman and Anas Mahmoud, who is actually from Egypt.
Many of the assembled press exploded in laughter at what seemed to be a joke. The obvious racial overtones were striking. But not because the longtime head coach mentioned whites and Egyptian, however.
Louisville opponent, Savannah State, is an HBCU. Its basketball program has never had the storied history or produced a wealth of NBA-caliber players like Louisville.
Before full-scale integration, Louisville — a state that was once marred by race riots in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., — only felt comfortable with a roster made up of only white basketball players on its college team. The black athletes, due to racial discrimination, had to suit up for schools like Savannah State because the color of their skin made them inferior regardless of their ability as athletes.
Louisville would become the first major college basketball program to integrate the upper south in 1964.
Decades later, it’s the white players at Louisville who are now considered inferior while the black players — who fill up rosters at all the major collegiate basketball programs — are considered indispensable assets.
Welcome to 2014.
The mass migration of black athletes from HBCUs to the big-time Division I programs over the years has created the talent and financial chasm which forced Pitino to play the white guys and the little used Egyptian out of sympathy in a game that was 41-7 at the half.
“You feel bad for the other team,” Pitino said.
And the only reason Savannah State agreed to this Louisville bashing is fill their athletic coffers — something Louisville doesn’t have to worry about, because it plays in a $257 million corporate arena named the KFC Yum! Center.
This sums up the gap between HBCUs and the one percent of college basketball.
The Louisvilles of the world can chuckle over fact they can humble HBCUs with black players it once shunned and white players they no longer need.