Yesterday, ACC basketball players and coaches from every team in the league gathered in the Spectrum Center in downtown Charlotte, NC for Operation Basketball—the conference’s media day.
Not that Tony Bennett, Kyle Guy, or Jack Salt needed the reminding, but Virginia’s last trip to the Spectrum Center ended in the mind-boggling and heartbreaking loss to UMBC in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It was bound to be a topic of discussion as media members from around the league got their first chance to talk to the Hoos, but the UVA representatives spoke frequently about how communicating about the event helped the healing process.
For Guy, the chance to return to the so-called scene of the crime was something he jumped at as it presented him with an opportunity to “face his demons”. “I think for me, it’s never forgetting it, but definitely trying to move past it to where I’m not hanging my head on it,” Guy said during Virginia’s press conference segment. “I think it’s taken me a little bit longer than some of the other guys, but that’s just because I’m an emotional kid and I’m real passionate about things. That cut me real deep.”
The loss helped Coach Bennett realize something in himself. “I desperately want Virginia and this team I coach to have a chance to one day play for a national championship, win a national championship, go to a Final Four,” Bennett told the media scrum on the floor of the arena. “I want to really go at this in the right way. That has inspired me in a way only a loss like that can. And it’s important that I have that.”
For Bennett, however, the realization didn’t end there. “But it did something else that I think is as important or more important. It made me realize if that doesn’t happen, I’m still OK. That’s freed me up to go after my coaching and this season in a better way and in the right way. I look at things differently now, actually better, after what I’ve experienced. I think if you know you can handle a bad thing or the worst thing that happens and can still find joy in the game, that you’ve made it through . . . that’s worth everything. I think it does allow you to go after it harder.”
Embracing the loss is important. It’s never going to NOT be mentioned, and that’s something Guy and Co. have had to learn in the months since UMBC pulled off the most improbable upset in the history of the tournament.
“It’s really hard. Time heals all wounds,” Guy said before correcting himself. “Most wounds.”
For Guy and the Cavaliers, accepting the loss also means using it as motivation as they enter a new season. “Inevitably,” he said with a smile, “...there’s going to be a 30 for 30 on it. So, we might as well win a national championship.”
Other News and Notes
- Braxton Key was a topic of interest after the dynamic transfer from Alabama was granted a waiver by the NCAA to play immediately.
“Yeah, I think he has a really good feel for the game,” Guy said of Key. “I played with him and against him in AAU and on the circuit and at camp, so I saw this firsthand. I think he’s a very good passer, actually. Sometimes he predetermines things before he does them, but he’s really active on the rebounds, and offensive rebounds, also. He’s a strong kid. He’s actually pretty athletic. I think once he completely buys into it defensively, he can be a nightmare.”
- The post is a position where the Hoos have depth with Salt, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff all able to play the five. Salt compared and contrasted their games:
“Jay and Mamadi are both good shooters. They shoot from the outside. I prefer playing on the inside, but they can both also play on the inside. I think Mamadi is really athletic. When he’s making strong moves he’s really hard to guard on the post, and Jay can stretch the four out as a 5-man, which has been tough to guard in practice. But I think we all work pretty hard. Still a lot of room to grow on the defensive end, but I think it’s a good group of guys.”
- Coach Bennett, Guy, and Salt were very complementary of Ty Jerome and his abilities at the point guard position. With Devon Hall’s graduation, Jerome is going to be the go-to guy at the point, and he spent the summer improving his game. Jerome finished conference play last season averaging 12.4 points (tied with Guy) and 3.6 rebounds per game while maintaining a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
- Oh, and this happened: