University of Louisville

It's split decision in Pike County rooting for Cards' Justice

There are few more loyal outposts in the Kingdom of the Blue than Pike County.

So one would surmise it cannot be easy living in the Eastern Kentucky county in the days leading up to the Kentucky-Louisville men's basketball game as the parent of a U of L player.

Robin Justice, the mother of Cardinals freshman point guard Elisha Justice, laughs when asked what it's like.

"You might be surprised," she said. "We've had some people make a point of telling us that they're for Elisha no matter what. Then there are those who say they're for him every game but one."

That one being Friday, of course.

Elisha Justice became a genuine Eastern Kentucky folk hero last March when he led Shelby Valley High School to the Kentucky state championship. Eventually, the 5-foot-10 guard added the 2010 Kentucky Mr. Basketball award to the state tournament MVP trophy he had earned in Rupp Arena.

After the Sweet Sixteen, Justice's recruitment briefly became ensnared in the never-ceasing UK-U of L conflict.

Justice flirted with signing with Eastern Kentucky University in the early signing period but instead pledged to Rick Pitino that he would walk on at Louisville.

Following his state tournament heroics, Justice got a call from John Calipari with an offer of a scholarship to UK.

Robin Justice says that since Elisha's older brother, Jonah, is in college at Virginia-Wise and his younger sister, Kyndra, now 18, will soon be entering college, too, the promise that Elisha could have a full ride was enticing to the family.

But after sleeping on Calipari's offer, "Elisha decided not to call him back. I remember him saying, 'I don't want Coach P. to think I went back on my word,'" Robin Justice said.

Elisha stayed true to his commitment and, after Samardo Samuels left the U of L program to turn pro, Pitino came through on his own promise that Justice would get the first available scholarship.

Jason Booher, who coached Justice at Shelby Valley and is now head man at Holmes, said Justice's choosing U of L over UK was not so much a rejection of the Cats as a level-headed career decision based on which system he fit the best.

In Calipari's dribble-drive motion offense, the point guards of recent vintage have been athletically blessed players such as Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall.

Pitino, on the other hand, has had smaller point guards such as Travis Ford and Anthony Epps.

"Elisha just saw himself having a better chance under Coach Pitino," Booher said.

The freshman got off to a quick start, scoring 12 points in Louisville's season-opening victory over Butler. In 15.5 minutes a game, Justice is averaging 4.7 points and almost two assists.

However, after suffering a concussion against Gardner-Webb, he has missed the last two U of L games and probably will not play Friday.

What is certain, says Robin Justice, is the status of those fans in Pike County who tell her that they are rooting for Elisha in every game but one.

"They don't need to be asking me for (U of L game) tickets," she said with a laugh.