Fans Celebrate Virginia Men’s Basketball National Championship

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The Virginia men’s basketball team made history last Monday night, winning the first national championship in the program’s history. UVA held a celebration event in Scott Stadium this past Saturday, and fans weren’t about to miss it.

When told the celebration would be held in Scott Stadium and not John Paul Jones Arena, Cavalier coach Tony Bennett recalled his initial reaction of disbelief: “I was like, ‘Come on. All right. There’s going to be enough room in there.’ And then to see [the crowd in Scott Stadium]. This community has been through a lot. To see this come together and to celebrate with them. It was a united celebration and nothing else mattered but celebrating with them. It was healing in so many ways and it was not lost on any of us.”

“When people are coming up to you, you are kind of welling up because it means so much to them,” Bennett added.

According to Virginia Athletics, 21,000 fans made the trek to Scott Stadium on Saturday. Stadium doors opened at 12:30 p.m., and by the time the event kicked off roughly an hour-and-half later, over one-third of Scott Stadium was filled. The stadium was buzzing as fans eagerly awaited the opportunity to cheer on this 2018-19 team one final time. A few took the time to discuss what the accomplishment meant to them and why they wanted to turn out in support.

Don, 2002 graduate of the McIntyre School of Commerce, traveled from Richmond with his wife.

“The whole ride, to me, just was really all about their passion, their desire to win. You could see it from game one of the season … they really were locked in to win it,” he said. “There was no let up. They were absolutely open about last year and how that inspired them. They weren’t down about it. They simply accepted it as part of what happens, and you move on. You know they worked hard all offseason and they worked hard during the season and they never let up.”

Emma, one of a large crowd of Virginia students on the field to celebrate.

Tony Bennett is “amazing,” she said. “I think he’s just a really good coach and an amazing guy. He’s very positive and just knows what he’s doing. I think he learned from losing and used that to make them even better.”

She added: “I think it’s the greatest comeback in sports history.”

Wayne and his wife have been Virginia football season ticket holders for almost 20 years (and seemingly just as excited about the direction of Bronco Mendenhall’s program) and support many Cavalier sports. However, they traveled almost two hours from Woodbridge to Charlottesville on Saturday for one reason only.

“We’re very excited about the basketball team, and that’s why we’re out here today, to support the basketball team,” said Wayne, whose son graduated from UVA in 2006. “[The national title run] was excitement. Nothing but excitement. To see them, especially after last year, the expectations of how far they were supposed to be going, that kind of put icing on the cake for me. Even with them losing last year, I was very proud of the way they handled themselves.”

The Ringer’s Mark Titus flew into Charlottesville. Titus has been one of UVA’s most vocal supporters from a media perspective.

“It is almost too perfect of a story,” Titus told VirginiaSports.com. “This will literally never happen again, that a team loses to a 16 and then wins a title the next year. It might not happen in a 10-year span, where a team loses to a 16 and wins a title within the next 10 years. The fact that it happened back-to-back, the fact that it was a lot of the same guys obviously were back. This isn’t a case of a bunch of one-and-done guys move on and then you get a new crop of guys to win the title. That whole thing, I don’t know, things start to happen, and you start to wonder if there is some sort of destiny thing.”

“I never grew up a Virginia fan,” Titus added. “I don’t have any connections to the program. I’m just a guy who loves college basketball and I fell in love with this style of play,” Titus said. “To sort of feel some sort of personal connection to this story, it really got to me. I got pretty emotional. I’ve never been this emotional watching a team win the national title before, so that was pretty cool to be there for that.”

The crowd settled in as Ralph Sampson, who led the UVA program to its first ever Final Four in 1981, took the stage to a standing ovation. Sampson was great, his pride in Virginia evident while noting that his official visit on Grounds occurred the same weekend 40 years ago.

Cavalier fans loved hearing from Sampson, who traveled to every one of the team’s tournament games. He joked that he wore the same shoes to every game and that he would be putting those shoes away until next year’s tournament.

Just prior to introducing the basketball team, Virginia Director of Athletics Carla Williams took the stage and received a standing ovation. The story of redemption stood out most to her as she harkened back to the UMBC loss and the journey taken since then – the initial devastation that quickly turned to resilience and perseverance.

Finally, it was time to bring out the national champs! Words need not be said as you could see Coach Bennett’s appreciation for the crowd when he emerged onto David A. Harrison III field from the football locker room.

The Scott Stadium crowd went wild for their champs. As Coach Bennett and the team took the stage, I spotted associate head coach and big-time Pittsburgh Steelers fan Jason Williford waving an orange towel in Steelers terrible towel fashion. Williford, a former Virginia player himself, beamed. Then Coach Bennett took the mic and showed a rare display of emotion to start his speech.

“I’m in awe of this,” Bennett then told the crowd, who belted out a few To-Ny chants. “This is more than I ever expected, so thank you for being here. This is a great day to celebrate.”

The ceremony ended with redshirt freshman forward Francesco Badocchi playing “One Shining Moment.” He did the same thing the day of the National Championship game versus Texas Tech. What a great finishing touch to the event.

“I didn’t know how many people would be here,” Bennett told the media afterward. “I didn’t think that many, and for them to come to celebrate this with us. We’ve had an amazing run and just the different celebrations, but to kind of have a culmination and have it here and the weather to stay nice, too, it was fitting right?”

Indeed it was, Coach. A long journey deserving of such a fitting end.

(Note: Click here for Kris Wright’s full photo gallery from Saturday’s event.)

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