NEW ORLEANS -- Kyle Kuric is no Rudy Ruettiger.
The word "walk-on" typically conjures romantic images -- the undersized, unathletic, unrecruited player who outworks his more talented peers, the guy who refuses to give up on his college dream, the unglamorous bench-dweller in it for sheer love.
Kuric has some of those qualities, sure, but his story isn't quite that idyllic. In 2008, the Evansville, Ind., native made occasional appearances on recruiting rankings, received a scholarship offer from Butler and entered Louisville coach Rick Pitino's program as a preferred walk-on. He didn't play much as a freshman -- a disappointment to Kuric and Kuric alone -- but emerged as solid scorer as a sophomore. That breakout earned him a scholarship last season, when he became a key piece in an overachieving Cardinals lineup.
"I was called a walk-on, but it was really just a title," Kuric said. "It didn't make any difference to me."
Such was the case again in Kuric's final season, when he gave up his scholarship for the betterment of his team. Pitino needed openings to sign standout freshmen recruits Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear, among others; Kuric's father, Steve Kuric, an Evansville-based neurosurgeon, was willing to foot the bill to help build the team.
That willingness paid off. Behanan's addition was crucial for a team that battled injuries and inconsistency all season; his play in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight was a primary reason Louisville overcame Michigan State and Florida en route to the Final Four. And the walk-on, who just so happens to be a starter on a team with two McDonald's All-Americans in its lineup, is just one day away from this you-don't-need-me-to-tell-you-how-big national semifinal against Kentucky.
That Kuric, now a captain, is such an important part of this team -- that he'll be matched up across from the unmatchable trio of Kentucky off-guards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb -- is a sign of not only how ragtag this group really is, but how much Kuric has developed in his four years in school. He is -- and this is not a value judgment so much as a statement of fact -- the un-Kentucky. The contrast with the NBA-bound, freshmen-led Wildcats couldn't be more stark.
"The way our coach recruits us and develops us is the reason [for our success]," Kuric said. "Where I've come since my freshman year, and the way we all play together and rely on each other so much, it says a lot about us.
"A lot of people are saying we're playing with house money, that we're just happy to be here," Kuric said. "We're definitely happy. But we're not content."