CHARLOTTESVILLE—The sun was shining over Scott Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Virginia men’s basketball team celebrated the first NCAA Tournament championship in program history in front of approximately 21,000 fans at the university’s football complex in Charlottesville.
A light drizzle pelted the fans, dressed in Cavaliers orange and blue, for much of the afternoon. Then, shortly before 2 p.m., the sun pushed the clouds over the stadium out of focus.
The crowd rose to its feet. Soon, Virginia, led by head coach Tony Bennett, emerged out of the arena’s bowels, with center Jack Salt cradling the championship trophy close to his chest. There was a roar from the lower bowl:
“U.Va.! U.Va.! U.Va.!”
Bennett let a smile spread across his face as he took in the mass of humanity on hand. Then he took the microphone, recalling how, when Virginia’s team bus pulled up to Littlejohn Coliseum on Jan. 12 to play at Clemson, the Tigers’ football team was celebrating its recent national title win feet away. Bennett said he wondered then what it would feel like to be in that position.
“You know what? That day is now!” Bennett said, his voice rising at the end of the sentence. He slapped hands with the players seated behind him.
From there, Salt, who announced he had hired an agent and will pursue a professional basketball career, forward Mamadi Diakite and guards Braxton Key, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Kihei Clark and De’Andre Hunter took turns addressing the crowd.
Jerome, a junior, hesitated when asked how he’d like to be remembered at U.Va. The crowd had a different idea: “One more year! One more year! One more year!”
Hunter and Jerome are likely to leave Virginia early and be selected in the 2019 NBA draft. But on Saturday, the guards’ futures weren’t a point of conversation. Instead, Virginia basked in the aftermath of what Cavaliers legend Ralph Sampson called the “best story in college basketball history,” in reference to the team winning the championship the year after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in men’s national tournament history.
Sampson, who led Virginia to its first Final Four appearance in 1981, opened the proceedings. He noted a funny synchronicity: His official visit to Grounds was exactly 40 years ago from Saturday, he said.
Bennett expressed joy that his team has provided unity in Charlottesville.
“It was a united celebration, and nothing else mattered but celebrating this,” the coach said. “And the community, coming together, it was healing in so many ways, and it was not lost on any of us.”
The Cavaliers have embraced the excitement surrounding their win. Bennett said he received about 500 congratulatory text messages after Monday’s 85–77 overtime win over Texas Tech, including many from numbers he hadn’t saved.
Guy said he’s been inundated with requests for photos after class.
“You dream of moments like this. It’s all so crazy,” he said. “It’s been fun, obviously comes with the territory, so I’m just trying to enjoy it all.”
Toward the end of the event, forward Francesco Badocchi arose from his seat. The reserve played one minute in the national tournament, but he filled an important role off the court. He played the song “One Shining Moment” on the piano in the hours before the championship game, and he provided an encore performance in front of the big crowd Saturday.
Then the team turned its attention to the stadium’s big board, where the “One Shining Moment” video was played. The image’s final frame features the Cavaliers hoisting the tournament trophy overhead amid falling blue, orange and white confetti.
“I’m not sure it’s going to settle in anytime soon,” Guy said.