By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
MINNEAPOLIS – For the University of Virginia men’s basketball team, a season that officially began Nov. 6 at John Paul Jones Arena ends tonight on a much bigger stage in this city, site of NCAA tournament’s Final Four.
At 9:20 p.m. Eastern, UVA (34-3) meets Texas Tech (31-6) for the NCAA title at U.S. Bank Stadium. CBS will televise the game, which will produce a first-time NCAA champion in this sport.
Among those expected to be in the Cavaliers’ cheering section at the 72,000-seat stadium will be such former players as Ralph Sampson, Barry Parkhill, Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon, Mamadi Diane, Devon Hall, Willie Dersch, Sean Singletary, Justin Anderson, Evan Nolte, Sammy Zeglinski, Caid Kirven, Thomas Rogers, Will Sherrill, Rob Vozenilek and Roger Mason Jr.
Other VIPs at the game will include Jim Ryan, an accomplished athlete who’s in his first year as UVA’s president. Amid his many obligations in Minnesota, Ryan took time to respond by email to several questions from VirginiaSports.com. The Q&A follows:
You’ve talked at length about the role athletics has played in your life. Given your passion for sports, what’s this season been like for you, first and foremost, as a fan?
“I’ve been a UVA basketball fan since I was a law student here in the late 1980s, and my kids have been life-long fans. To see this team get so far after so long has been a true joy for my family and me, as it has for so many other people in this community.”
— What’s this season been like for you as UVA’s president? Does the success of such a high-profile team, and the manner in which this team has conducted itself, affect the University?
“I often talk about how we at UVA should strive to be both great and good in all we do. This team is a perfect example of what that means. They know how to win and, just as importantly, how to win the right way. Their success has lifted the spirits of many around Grounds—not just because they are winning basketball games, but because of who they are as players, how they support each other, and how Coach Bennett and his fellow coaches approach the game.”
— You’ve followed this team all season. What impresses you most about this group of young men and coaches?
“I have been incredibly impressed by this team’s ability to lean into adversity. Life is full of setbacks and disappointments—the real test is how we respond to them. I believe one reason these players and coaches have gotten as far as they have is because they’ve been able to accept and learn from last year’s defeat instead of burying or ignoring it.”
— How important is it to have student-athletes and coaches who reflect the values of the University, as this team does?
“Very important. In many ways, our athletics teams are the public face of UVA. We are incredibly fortunate that Carla Williams and all our coaches, staff, and student-athletes represent UVA so well. They really are some of our best ambassadors.”
— How familiar were you with Tony Bennett before you returned to the University last year? Now that you’ve spent more time with him, has your impression of him changed?
“Tony is an exceptional leader in every sense of the word, on and off the court. He is gracious in defeat and humble in victory. I have the utmost respect for him and truly value his role at UVA in setting a tone for what really matters.”
— Charlottesville has had to endure more than its share of pain over the past two years. Can success in men’s basketball – or football – help unify the entire community?
“I hope so. Sports, like the arts, has a way of bringing people together—at least those who are rooting for the same team! I hope that the success of UVA athletics has contributed to a shared joy throughout UVA and the broader Charlottesville community.”
— What’s been the most memorable moment of the season for you?
“Honestly, this team continues to deliver the most amazing finishes during this Final Four run. But, if you asked me to pick one, I’d have to say the last 5.9 seconds of the Elite Eight Game against Purdue. Aka The Play.’ Totally speechless…”
— Did you keep your eyes open for all three of Kyle Guy’s free throws Saturday night?
“Eyes open. Teeth clenched. As I tweeted: OMGuy!”