For the first time ever, ESPN's College GameDay is coming to Charlottesville when the No.2 and undefeated Cavaliers play host to the fourth ranked Blue Devils of Duke University on Sunday.
The excitement is palpable, and right in the thick of it is former coach and GameDay newcomer, Seth Greenberg. Most Virginia fans know Coach Greenberg for his nine year tenure at the helm of the Virginia Tech Hokies, but he also has close ties to the University of Virginia. Five years into his 35 year coaching career, Greenberg made the move from Pittsburgh to Charlottesville to become an assistant coach under Terry Holland with the 1983-1984 Cavaliers.
"Oh, it was tremendous." Greenberg said of his time coaching at UVa. "Coach Holland is one of my favorite people of all time, and that team is probably one of my favorite teams of all time."
Also coaching on that staff? Miami's current head coach Jim Larranaga and Old Dominion's head coach (and former Virginia head coach) Jeff Jones, among others.
After the one year at Virginia, Coach Greenberg moved on to Miami before becoming the associate head coach of Long Beach State in 1987. Three years later, he made the jump to head coach of the LBSU 49ers. Following two trips to the NCAA tournament and an NIT appearance in a matter of six years, Greenberg went to the University of South Florida before eventually getting the head coaching job at Virginia Tech in 2003.
Off the court, Coach Greenberg has been enthusiastic in his support of various cancer research groups, including the recent Coaches Vs. Cancer awareness campaign. The cause is close to his heart after losing his father to cancer and having his future son-in-law's nephew battling brain cancer at a young age.
"I just think that if you're going to be a public figure, you need to use your influence to try and help people...I just think that anything you can do to bring awareness and educate and raise money, to any cause quite honestly, we need to use our position to help, if we are able to. It's a subject to me that's important, and I don't try to take things for granted."
When Coach Greenberg and the Hokies unceremoniously parted ways in 2012, he was immediately picked up by ESPN for the kind of expertise and analysis that only 35 years coaching can bring. He has contributed on in-studio analysis, podcasts, and most recently as a "Behind the Bench" commentator, which has brought well-deserved praise.
Greenberg says he misses the competition associated with coaching, but appreciates the opportunities like being a part of the GameDay crew, which, "...is the closest I've got to the high of coaching, without the preparation and the disappointment if your team doesn't play well."
Due to his time in Blacksburg, Seth Greenberg is very familiar not only with Virginia basketball, but with Coach Bennett as well.
"Tony's teams don't beat themselves, you've got to beat them." Greenberg said. "You've got to be disciplined offensively and defensively, you've got to match their toughness, you've got to understand there's going to be some spurts both ways, and you've got to make sure going into the game your guys are shot ready because they do a good job closing out on shooters."
And Greenberg did beat them. Against Tony Bennett, he's an even 3-3, including a 47-45 victory over No.15 Virginia the last time he visited John Paul Jones Arena in 2012. Interestingly, the six games played between Bennett and Greenberg were decided by an average of just 4.1 points.
"We had some terrific games...every game was very competitive. I have a lot of respect for Tony [Bennett]. Rivalries are big, but you don't have to hate the people you're competing against. That's for the fans to do." Greenberg commented, laughing.
Despite being the head of the rivalry for nine years, Greenberg has endeared himself to Virginia fans through his in-depth analysis and for 'embracing the pace'. His kind words on the Cavaliers this season haven't hurt either, and although he will sing Justin Anderson's praises (a player he recruited heavily), Greenberg has a different favorite player on the Hoos.
"My favorite player on the team is Malcolm Brogdon. I just love the way he plays." he stated. "I love the way he competes, I love the way he plays at his own pace and the defense doesn't speed him up, he's always in control. I think he's just a special player."
Tomorrow against Duke, Virginia will need special players like Anderson and Brogdon to shine in order to take down the Devils.
"With this team, you've got to run Justin off the three point line and keep him off the glass. You've got to contain Brogdon. Perrantes is sneaky because at the end of games he's been good, and then you have to deal with their versatility up front." Greenberg said of combating Virginia's balance. "You've got to take away Tobey's angles, you've got to match the physicality of Gill."
And as for GameDay in Charlottesville?
"I think it's going to be a great atmosphere. The Hoo fans are great fans, they have great ownership, there's passion, there's energy...hopefully the fans will treat me fairly, but seeing as I got whacked from Virginia Tech, they probably appreciate me more now." Greenberg chuckled. "I'm looking forward to it. We'll have a good time with it."
When asked if there's any old haunts he might hit when he goes back to Charlottesville, he came up with one that Virginia fans might not have expected.
"That's a good question...shoot. From my old, old days, I might end up at the Aberdeen Barn for all I know."
While I hated being the one that broke it to him that The Tavern was no longer in business, Coach Greenberg is excited to come back to his old stomping grounds to relive that magical year he had with the 1983-1984 team.
That team, one year removed from the legendary Ralph Sampson, did not come with high preseason expectations, and many did not expect the 21-12 record and trip to the Final Four.
According to Greenberg, it was a team that, "...is a lot like the one Tony [Bennett] has now. A team that had toughness, that competed, that guarded, that was hard to play against."
Virginia fans would love to see a return to the Final Four this year. Maybe plus a little more.
Time to bring it, Hoos. Don't let Seth Greenberg down.