Cavalier Fans, Players & Coaches Celebrate First Men’s Hoops Title

By Scott Ratcliffe

UVA guard Ty Jerome high-fives Cavalier fans at Scott Stadium during the team’s National Championship celebration Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Dan Grogan)

The Virginia men’s basketball program’s storybook season culminated in Charlottesville, in a memorable, orange-and-blue-clad National Championship celebration on a beautiful Spring afternoon Saturday at Scott Stadium.

Wahoo Nation came together in full force to pay tribute to their champions as ‘HooVision provided goosebump-inducing highlight videos of the most unforgettable season in UVA history, with chants of “U-V-A!” and “Tony! Tony!” sprinkled in throughout the event. All of this on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, no less.

Wahoo legend Ralph Sampson got things started, referring to Virginia’s ride through the Big Dance as “the greatest story in college basketball history” and sharing an interesting tidbit with the crowd of approximately 25,000 jubilant fans.

“I decided it 40 years ago,” Sampson said to an ovation, when asked when exactly he decided he would follow his alma mater all the way from Columbia to Minneapolis. “Ironically, 40 years ago today was my official visit, this weekend, to the University of Virginia. It’s my mother’s birthday, she turns 81 today, so it was 40 years ago that I came here on my official visit and decided to go to UVA.

Ralph Sampson speaks to UVA fans Saturday.

“So how special is this 40 years later?”

Sampson admitted that he wore the same pair of shoes to all six NCAA Tournament games, that he now plans to “retire” until a later date.

“I’m going to wear them next year so we can do it twice,” Sampson exclaimed, which drew an even louder roar.

After UVA Health System CEO Pam Sutton-Wallace, City of Charlottesville Vice Mayor Heather Hill and City Council Member Kathy Galvin shared a few words, UVA Director of Athletics Carla Williams addressed the crowd.

“Charlottesville! Yeah! Let’s Go! National Champions!” Williams exclaimed, before being asked if she ever thought such a scene was possible when she took the job.

“My answer was, ‘Absolutely,’” Williams told emcee and Voice of the Cavaliers, Dave Koehn. “I believe that sports brings people together, all kinds of people, and this team, our coaches, our players, has been a unifying force, not just for the athletic department, not just for the University, not just for Charlottesville, but for the Commonwealth of Virginia. And for that, I am thankful.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, and adding that the turnout was “more than we expected,” Coach Tony Bennett then led the team members onto the field, with the Championship trophy draped with remnants of the hoop in tow, and he explained how a moment on the road from earlier in the season came full circle on Saturday.

Tony Bennett pumps his fist during Saturday’s ceremony.

“We played at Clemson,” Bennett recalled, “and we’re riding up on the bus, and it was the time where they were going to celebrate the football National Championship. And we’re riding up on the bus and the stadium’s full, and we’re getting ready for a Noon game, and I remember thinking, ‘Man. What would that be like if we ever won a National Championship?’ And you know what? That day is now!”

Bennett pumped his fist with a satisfying laugh, high-fiving his players and displaying the excitement of a kid waking up on Christmas morning.

“Our theme was ‘United Pursuit,’ because we knew it would be that,” Bennett told Wahoo fans young and old, “and I can’t help but think this is a united celebration of that pursuit. I’m blown away by it.

“You hope for something like this, but this is beyond what I expected. When we came [to Charlottesville], we just tried to sell the vision to all these guys that if we do it right, maybe we — I’ve got a poster of Rocky, I said it after the game, we just wanted a chance at a title fight, and that was the hope. And for what they did, and to be here with you guys, and how you’ve embraced us is special. So I’ve got to be honest, I never expected anything like this if I’m truthful. … This is making it real, that’s for sure.”

Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite talked about their respective roles in “The Play,” Braxton Key touched on his game-saving block at the end of regulation against Texas Tech, while Jack Salt reflected on being the lone senior, his program-record 118 wins at UVA, his future professional plans, and most of all, the memories.

Members of the UVA men’s basketball team share a laugh during Saturday’s festivities. (Photo by Dan Grogan)

“This has been amazing,” said Salt. “I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a great team, I’ve met some of my best friends for life being at this school, and thanks to Coach Bennett for letting me come here. I’ve had an amazing experience.”

De’Andre Hunter admitted that he didn’t play his best basketball throughout the tournament, but explained that he knew he had to step up and be aggressive when it mattered most, including his 3-pointer late in regulation that sent the title game to overtime.

“I was honestly hoping that Ty [Jerome] would pass the ball,” Hunter joked, with Jerome looking on with a grin. “He was shooting a lot, he was shooting those floaters, so he passed it to me in the corner, it was a good pass, I was in rhythm, and it’s a shot that I shoot all the time in practice so I just had to knock it down.”

Final Four Most Outstanding Player Kyle Guy told the fans about the pressure-packed moments leading up to his game-clinching free throws against Auburn.

“We just tried to buckle down and be as disciplined as possible,” Guy said. “We were laser-focused all of March, and we did a great job executing and just never giving up, even though we were down in some instances and we did our job.”

Jerome pointed out where he got his motivation to help lead the program to its first title.

Virginia fans showed up in numbers to celebrate the NCAA men’s basketball championship. (Photo by Kipperly Tidball)

“Just wanting to win so bad,” he said, “with my teammates, with these coaches, for these fans — just wanting to win and just all the work we’ve put in. … It was a dream come true.”

Cavalier redshirt-freshman forward Francesco Badocchi showed off his piano skills and brilliantly put the finishing touches on the ceremony with his rendition of “One Shining Moment” before the famous song was played along with the championship highlight reel on the big screen.

Upon exit from the stage, Bennett and his players could be seen high-fiving and taking selfies with fans as “The Good Old Song” rang on the speakers to put a perfect cap on this memorable day and championship season.

NOTE: If you missed any of the celebration ceremony, or just want to watch it over and over again, click here.


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