With the holiday season winding down and a New Year on deck, it’s sometimes a nostalgic time for people. That can be true for fans who look back at the year that is wrapping up or at some of their favorite teams from years gone by. There’s a great way for Virginia basketball fans to do exactly that.
UVA alum Robert Friddell provided an easy way to do that with his book “intangible” this year. Friddell spent time talking with many people inside the Cavaliers’ program during the rise of the Tony Bennett era and pulled together those interviews “to form a collective memoir organized into an oral history of a decade.” The result is a closer look at the rise of the Hoos over the decade from 2010-2020, culminating in the 2019 National Championship.
TheSabre.com featured Friddell on the podcast in October to talk about the book. You can revisit that episode here:
Friddell also took time out to answer some questions about “intangible” in a quick take format. Here a few insights into the process and the book’s content. If you didn’t get the gift you wanted this holiday season or maybe you just got an Amazon gift card, give this book a look.
When you visted with us on TheSabre.com podcast, we asked you who you interviewed first so here’s the opposite. Who was the last interview and what’s something you remember about it?
Robert Friddell: Marial and Akil were the last two. We touched on Akil’s interview in the podcast, but Marial was signing basketball cards in the NBA Bubble when we talked. He ended up transferring to Iowa State for his senior year, and as a result, parts of his experience in Charlottesville are tough to hear.
That said, I’m sure lots of folks can empathize with finding yourself in a situation where you put in the work but don’t get to reap the benefits, and I admire Marial’s mindset in that process. He still loved his time at Virginia and carries those relationships with him, and his year off at Iowa State and subsequent breakout season propelled him into the NBA.
Your interviews for the book included players from a while back that are involved with the program now in a different way. What stood out to you about Barry Parkhill and Jason Williford and their view of the program?
Robert Friddell: There are certainly strings that connect the current program with those of the past, and while the book only covers 10 seasons, those two guys provide points of view with decades of experience. They love that basketball program and steward that atmosphere as athletes come through and years go by, but don’t forget these guys are competitors too. They like to win.
Ronnie Wideman and Johnny Carpenter are two guys sort of behind the scenes helping the program grow and flourish. What were your conversations with them like?
Robert Friddell: General Patton was once asked, “How do you do it? Where on earth does the petrol come from to feed your motorized columns?” He replied, “I don’t know. I’ve got a chap who looks after that.”
That’s Ronnie. He isn’t mentioned much in the media (and prefers it that way, so I’ll keep this short), but he’s as valuable to that program as any individual involved.
Johnny is non-stop and a key cog in the culture they foster. He started as a student manager and spent the last decade or so on staff – so as a young adult, he grew up in that program and got to watch it grow as he did. I’ve thought about which player’s jersey I’d buy, and if a Johnny Carpenter jersey existed, that’d be it.
There’s a segment in there with Ty Jerome, who Virginia fans obviously love. He says two things in row that are interesting. One, “We’re going there to win a National Championship” and “I don’t think we knew how hard it was going to be.” And two, the “keep knocking” thing that UVA fans are familiar with from the journey and the Syracuse game in Chicago – the team actually uses a little knocker like touching the rock with Clemson football. Those were two neat little insights. What else did you like about your time with Ty?
Robert Friddell: I think his recruiting class is far from the first in history to tell each other they’re going to win a National Championship, but they did it. On that front, you have to give them credit for both the dream and the follow-through. It’s like that Thoreau quote: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
I’m actually curious on the inspiration behind “keep knocking” and the knocker in the locker room, but if I had to go out on a limb, I’d bet it’s Matthew 7:7 (“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (ESV)) I learned from The Last Dance that Phil Jackson gave every season’s team a new phrase to encapsulate the upcoming season’s mission, and Coach Bennett does the same thing with phrases like “Turnaround Year” in Year 3, but “keep knocking” started in the first few years and stuck around. It’s a great recurring thought regardless of the situation.
My favorite line from Ty is, “Pain’s gonna leave.” When you’re in pain, it sure doesn’t feel like it’ll leave, but knowing that it’ll leave can deliver some hope when you’re in the midst of it and fighting through it. Also, the grammar part of me wanted to change that line to, “Pain [is] gonna leave,” but the rhythm of it was too good to touch.
When you read the list of names you interviewed, some names people are going to gravitate automatically like Ty Jerome from the previous question. Among the others you interviewed, was there a sort of “under the radar” but really great conversation for you?
Robert Friddell: I’ll go with Ben Buell, who was a student manager from 2015-2019. We went to the same high school five years apart, my brother was his math teacher, and Alex Peavey (another interviewee, currently the Mindfulness Coach for VCU Basketball) had a big impact on us as a counselor and basketball coach in our high school days.
We’d never met before our interview, but within two minutes of talking with him, I thought, Oh, I know you. There were a lot of shared roots that led to a phenomenal conversation on values, religion, leadership, and culture. It was like he knew exactly what I was going for in this project, and the dude delivered.