Louisville women’s basketball punches Final Four ticket, then gives back to Wichita

Two of those girls were Destiny Smith and Naomi White, a pair of sophomores who are up-and-coming players on the Derby girls basketball team that recently played in the Class 6A state championship.

They both have Division I dreams of playing college basketball and they aspire to be like the Louisville players they watched on Friday and Monday. Even before the Cardinals were assigned to the Wichita regional, the girls said Louisville was their favorite college basketball team to watch.

“I’ve been watching Hailey play since she was in high school,” White said. “I love watching her play. She’s so good. I love her so much.”

“I just love watching basketball and seeing how hard these girls work and everything they do,” Smith added. “It’s so much different watching them in person than watching them on TV.”

The duo had watched so many highlight films of Van Lith, obsessed over her moves and her tenacity for attacking the basket. And now here was their hero, a potential WNBA lottery pick taking time out of her championship celebration to come over and snap as many pictures as they wanted and chat with them about basketball.

Smith’s mother, Kristin Brewer, could already tell the impact the encounter had on the teenage girls.

“It makes them want it even more for the dreams they’re chasing,” Brewer said. “That was a dream come true for them.”

Even in their moment of bliss, the Louisville players made it a priority to take the time to help grow the game by inspiring the younger generation.

Emily Engstler, a Louisville senior who finished with five points, 16 rebounds, four assists, and six steals versus Michigan, also stopped by the group of girls to take pictures and speak.

“You hope it inspires them, but it’s also critical to show them genuine affection and to stop to say hello and give them a high-five,” Engstler added. “This gives people the impression that you are a genuine human being. We are much more than basketball players. And maybe they’ll continue to do so as they get older.”

VIDEO: Louisville Women's Basketball Media Day 2019-2020 – The Crunch Zone

Chelsie Hall (15 points, four steals) of Louisville didn’t hesitate to come over when she heard the girls chanting her name.

“You never know what someone is going through or the extent to which you can help,” Hall explained. “It wasn’t difficult to walk over there and talk basketball with them and offer them some love. We’re always looking to expand the game, and that’s something I’m always looking to do.”

On Saturday and Monday, hundreds, if not thousands, of girls from the Wichita region gathered to watch some of the finest women’s college basketball players in the country. While not all of them met those players in person, there is a good probability that many of them developed a new favorite team or player as a result of the encounter.

Louisville’s tale is still being written, with the possibility of adding another chapter in Minneapolis later this week.

However, there is little doubt that the Cardinals left a lasting impression in Wichita.

“I believe that it is always beneficial to take time out of your celebration to pose with someone who looks up to you,” Engstler remarked. “I believe it means everything to them. At the very least when I was a child.”

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