Sept. 27, 2016
By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At one end of the court at John Paul Jones Arena, Rick Carlisle took a pass from a fellow University of Virginia basketball alumnus and put up a shot. It missed, eliciting a shake of the head from Carlisle.
“That would have been Justin Anderson’s first assist in two years,” he said.
Carlisle, of course, is the longtime head coach of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. His players include Anderson, a second-year swingman, and they were among the dozens of former UVA hoops players who returned to JPJ on Friday as part of All-Sports Reunion weekend.
This was more than an annual gathering of former players. The reunion celebrated the accomplishments of the 1975-76 Cavaliers and, especially, Terry Holland, who coached that team to the program’s first — and, until 2014, only — ACC tournament title.
In 16 seasons at UVA — his last was 1989-90 — Holland compiled a record of 326-173, with two trips to the Final Four, and he remains the winningest coach in program history.
“Coach Holland is such an important person in my life and the lives of so many guys that passed through the University of Virginia,” said Carlisle, a starting guard on the team that reached the Final Four in 1984. “To have the chance to come back and honor him is very important.”
For the basketball alumni, the festivities started Friday afternoon at JPJ, where the early arrivals watched UVA’s current head coach, Tony Bennett, put his players through an intense practice session.
Holland, resplendent in sport coat and tie, entered the arena around 3:15 p.m. and took a seat in Section 113, which slowly filled as the afternoon went on. Not every alum who came to the reunion played for Holland, but they all made sure to pay their respects to him.
“He transformed the program to make it a national, elite program,” said Wally Walker, the star of the 1975-76 team.
At the end of practice Friday afternoon, Bennett took the microphone and addressed his guests.
“This is really special,” Bennett said. “I’m so thankful that the UVA basketball family is here to honor Coach Holland.”
Bennett, who’s in his eighth season at UVA, has returned the program to national prominence. He noted, though, that the players and coaches who preceded him in Charlottesville laid the foundation for the Cavaliers’ current success.
“We’re just trying to build on it,” Bennett said.
Before the group moved upstairs at JPJ, video highlights of the Cavaliers’ 2015-16 season played on the Hoo Vision board above the court. Led by All-America guard Malcolm Brogdon, now a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks, Virginia advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight for the first time since 1995.
“I got chills [watching the highlights],” Walker said. “Now I’m worried I’m going to watch a video of me wearing some short shorts. I keep hoping those shorts are going to grow over the years, and I’m told they haven’t.”
In 1974-75, Holland’s first season in Charlottesville, the Wahoos finished 12-13 after losing to NC State in the first round of the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. Afterward, Holland told his players Virginia would win the tourney in ’76.
“If he didn’t believe it,” Walker recalled, “he made us believe he meant it.”
In 1976, the seven-team ACC tournament was held at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md., and UVA entered as the No. 6 seed. In what became known as the “Miracle in Landover,” Virginia upset 17th-ranked NC State, ninth-ranked Maryland and, finally, fourth-ranked North Carolina on consecutive nights to capture the ACC crown.
“I do believe that set a tone for what Virginia could be,” said Holland, who later served as the school’s athletics director.
Walker, a 6-7 forward, made 28 of 41 shots from the floor in the three games to earn MVP honors. He was one of seven players from the 1975-76 team who made it back for the reunion, along with Steve Castellan, Otis Fulton, Mark Newlen, Ed Schetlick, Bob Sefcik and Bobby Stokes.
Also in attendance from the 1975-76 team were assistant coach Mike Schuler, graduate assistant Brian Tully (a former UVA player), athletic trainers Joe Gieck and Craig Johnson, manager Phillip Beeson and radio play-by-play announcer John Gordon. (Assistant coach Bill Cofield died in 1983, and beloved team manager Frank Birckhead passed away in 2015.)
The team was honored Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium during a break in the UVA-Central Michigan football game.
Holland and his wife, Ann, who joined him at the reunion, now live in Denver. To be reunited with so many team members, Holland said, was “a great thrill, because not only did you get to see them and their wives, but you get to see the kids and even grandkids in some cases. It’s been a lot of fun.”
In addition to those from the 1975-76 team, former players at the reunion included Carlisle, Anderson, Ralph Sampson, Lee Raker, Kenton Edelin, Richard Morgan, Matt Blundin, Jason Williford (now one of Bennett’s assistant coaches), Colin Ducharme, Keith Friel, Ryan Pettinella, Cade Lemcke, Greg Lyons, Terry Gates, Kenny Johnson, Jim Miller, Tim Mullen, Garland Jefferson, Chip Conner, Jeff Klein, Andrew Boninti, Dan Bonner and Ricky Stokes.
Several of Holland’s former UVA colleagues were in the house too, including Craig Littlepage, Dave Odom, Seth Greenberg and Gene Corrigan. Littlepage, Odom and Greenberg were assistants under Holland. Corrigan, as UVA’s athletics director, hired Holland in 1974.
After remarks from Littlepage, who succeeded Holland as Virginia’s AD in 2001, Bonner took over as master of ceremonies for a program that lasted about 90 minutes. Now a TV analyst for college basketball and baseball, Bonner played for Holland as a senior in 1974-75.
Bonner, pointing to the splendid surroundings in JPJ, noted that it “wasn’t always this way [at UVA]. Somebody had to show the people here that it was possible.”
That person was Holland, who came to Virginia from Davidson, his alma mater.
Holland’s predecessor at UVA, Bill Gibson, had some strong teams and recruited such standouts as Parkhill, Walker and Gus Gerard. Not until Holland arrived, however, did the `Hoos begin to win consistently.
“Those guys were really, really good players,” Holland said. “So I think they set the stage for our fan base to see we can win, but it’s going to take a lot of work to be able to win night after night. We were winning some games, but we weren’t winning a lot of games. So when I came in, the thing we had to do was find a way to win more games and be able to get into the NCAA tournament and keep the fan base in place and wanting to come to games and be willing to pay what it took to support the program.”
Walker, whose son, Joe, attends UVA, sees strong parallels between Holland and Bennett.
Holland “changed our culture in a similar fashion to what Tony did when he arrived,” Walker said, “when the program is in a state that isn’t built for success. They changed it 180 [degrees].”
Bennett and Holland share, among other things, a commitment to rugged defense.
“You start there,” Walker said. “You have a toughness about you. You’re the best-conditioned team. When you put yourself in that position, you’ve still got to make some shots, but you give your team a chance to win every game.”
The tribute to Holland at JPJ included a panel discussion in which Walker, Carlisle, Sampson and Odom talked about their time with Holland. Then, at last, it was Holland’s turn.
“It’s been a wonderful for the Holland family to be part of this,” he said.
In 2014, after Virginia defeated Duke in the ACC championship game, Bennett looked up in the stands at the Greensboro Coliseum. Seeing Holland there, Bennett recalled Friday, added to the magic of the moment.
Holland, for his part, has followed Bennett’s tenure at UVA with pride.
“We are very fortunate to have someone like Tony Bennett coaching our basketball team,” Holland said, and Carlisle agreed.
“Tony Bennett is one of the best basketball coaches in the world, flat out,” Carlisle said, “and I’m including the NBA and Europe and every other country that there is. He has established such a constant here at Virginia with their commitment to unselfishness, toughness, togetherness, defense. He’s built a system and a way of approaching the game that is extremely successful and will continue to be.”
In his closing remarks Friday, Holland too expressed optimism about the future of UVA basketball.
“We’ve got a lot more to do,” Holland said, “and we’re gonna get it done.”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Virginia, whose returning players include London Perrantes, Isaiah Wilkins, Marial Shayok, Devon Hall and Darius Thompson, will hold its second annual Pepsi Blue-White scrimmage at JPJ on Sunday, Oct. 23, at 3 p.m.
Meet the Teams Day for several sports — men’s basketball, women’s basketball, swimming and driving, and wrestling — will follow the scrimmage.
Admission and parking are free for both events.
For more information, click here.