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Feb. 14, 2006

by Cathy Bongiovi-Stewart

For junior Tara McKnight, attending the University of Virginia and playing basketball for the Cavaliers has been a life-long dream.

Now in her second season, the walk-on is one of four upperclassmen on a very young team.

“I feel like I’m more a part of the team this year (after) spending the summer with everyone and working in the off-season,” McKnight said. “I live with Siedah now, so we’re really good friends. Sharneé’s always over. I just feel like I can say more and people listen. I feel like I help more in practice, because I know the system a lot better.”

After years of attending Debbie Ryan’s summer basketball camp, McKnight is now a leader for the Cavaliers. She’s worked her way onto the squad and onto the court. Now she helps guide the five freshmen.

“(I try) just to set a good example and let them know what’s right and what’s wrong,” McKnight said. “I try to lead them in the right direction.”

McKnight has been sailing in the right direction for a while. An Academic All-ACC honoree, the history major has seen action in nine games this season. But McKnight feels her biggest accomplishment has been time management.

“I’m proud of keeping my academics up while I’m still playing,” she said.

While her minutes on the hardwood are limited, her influence on her teammates is immeasurable.

“I’ve always been a fan of Virginia basketball,” she added. “It’s really fun to be a part of it now.”

Coach Ryan agrees.

“Tara’s shooting ability will help us extend the opponents’ defense when necessary,” Ryan added. “She is an invaluable asset to our team both on and off the court.”

Fulfilling her dream, McKnight was brought up on UVa and Cavalier basketball, thanks to her father Tom, who played golf for the `Hoos (1973-76). Her older brother Tee is also a UVa graduate. During his tenure, Tee was a manager for the men’s basketball team. McKnight was exposed the UVa hoops at a very early age.

“Yes, my parents brought me to watch a couple of women’s games while I was growing up,” McKnight shared. “I’ve been to a lot of men’s games, too. I’ve always been a big fan.”

This season is the last for UVa games in University Hall. The building has stood the test of time, but next season the `Hoos will play in the state-of-the-art John Paul Jones Arena.

“To me especially, everything’s gone in a giant circle. I came to camp here as a little kid,” McKnight said. “It’s going to be great to be a part of going to the new arena, but it’s going to be sad to leave U-Hall at the same time. There are a lot of memories in this building.”

McKnight’s favorite memory in U-Hall happened during basketball camp many years ago.

“I don’t think Coach remembers this, but I got the Hustle Award when I was little kid,” McKnight recalled. “I thought it was the greatest thing, because she handed out the awards, and I was just so excited.

“Probably the best memory I have is coming to see the women play,” she added. “I just thought that was so neat. I’ve always wanted to play here.”

Next season, McKnight will enter her senior season and help usher in a new era of Virginia women’s basketball in the JPJ Arena.

Tara’s Favorites
Food: RibsIce cream: Vanilla with Hershey’s syrup
Athlete: Pete Maravich
WNBA Team: Charlotte Sting
Actor: Denzel Washington, Richard Gere
Actress: Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock
Children’s Book: The Giving Tree
Spot on Grounds: The Lawn & University Hall

My pregame rituals are …
to make my last shot in warm-ups.

Three words that best describe me are …
compassionate, loyal, determined.

My dream profession is …
FBI detective.

My advice to a young athlete is …
never give up. Just keep working hard and always follow your dreams.

I chose Virginia, because
I wanted to go here my whole life.

I admire Debbie Ryan, because
she’s a winner and has accomplished so much.

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