At some point, Rick Pitino had to make the tough decisions.
On a team plagued by injuries the past two seasons, the end of the bench often occupied by three, sometimes four or five players in street clothes. Among them players with persistent physical challenges, severely limiting their potential, depriving them of playing time.
The first to go was Elisha Justice. Then came Stephan Van Treese a couple of weeks ago. The latest transfer is Rakeem Buckles who will be going to Florida International University. Their time had passed them by, making them less relevant.
During a recent University of Louisville baseball game, I recall Russ Smith and Buckles surrounded by youngsters in the concourse at Jim Patterson Stadium. Russ, because of his recent success, was the center of attention, the target of autographs from more than a dozen kids.
No one seemed to recognize the friend who stood by politely to the side while Smith basked in the attention. He looked slightly familiar, prompting one to ask Russ the name of his companion. “This is my man, the ‘Keem.” “Oh, how’re you doing, Rakeem?” How quickly we forget.
The positive thing is that Buckles is returning home, to Miami where recognition shouldn’t be a problem. He was, after all, Class 4A Player of the Year in Florida, where his team won state championships during his sophomore and junior years in high school. His coaches at FIU are Rick Pitino, Jr., and Mark Lieberman, another former UofL assistant, who was his high school coach.
Sad to see Buckles go, but serious injuries, including two ACL tears, have taken their toll. He will be missed. They’ll all be missed.