The start of the Virginia Basketball season is right around the corner, and we are counting down the days until the Hoos welcome Towson to John Paul Jones Arena on November 6. The season starts in 34 days, and today it’s time to put the 2017-18 season in the past.
Whew, that was a long offseason. For some of you, that offseason wasn’t long enough. I’m fully aware that a number of Virginia fans won’t even open or read this, and that’s fine. Everyone deals with tough losses in their own way, and there’s literally no guidance on how to attempt to bounce back as a fan when your No. 1 overall team loses to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Don’t know if you’ve heard, but that’s never happened before.
So, we are in no fan’s land.
One of the hardest parts about trying to move on from the loss stems from the fact that the team was outstanding. Virginia was hands down the best team in the country for the majority of the season and rose from unranked to unanimous No. 1. They put together an unreal 31-2 regular season record and 17-1 ACC record en route to claiming the ACC regular season and tournament titles.
Seven points on the road at West Virginia and one point in an overtime loss to [team redacted] was all that separated the Hoos from an undefeated regular season. Virginia beat UNC twice, got their first win at Cameron Indoor Stadium since before anyone on the team was even born, and De’Andre Hunter made the bank heard round the world at Louisville.
The loss to UMBC was a fluke, it was soul-crushingly sad, and it’s something that has become part of Virginia’s history. It is what it is.
And I think it may be time to let it go. I know that’s tough to read, but hear me out.
If you don’t let it go, you will miss out on an incredibly fun season with an exciting and dynamic squad.
The 2017-18 season is over. Unfortunately, we can’t do anything to change it. That chapter is closed. The team will never be the same, so don’t let any painful memories stop you from experiencing all the sure to come highs and hopefully sparse lows of 2018-19.
Ty Jerome had an incredible summer where he showed out amongst some of the most talented guards in the country. He’s received praise for his leadership from scouts and media covering the event, and Coach Bennett has raved about the third year’s response to the potentially career-defining loss. After the loss, Jerome reached out to his coach with some support. According to David Teel of The Virginian-Pilot, the text message the then-second year sent essentially said, “This is part of our story now, we can’t hide from it, and only we have the power to determine our response.”
Alongside Jerome, there’s his literal wingman Kyle Guy. He’s already bared his soul in a post that outlined his mindset following the loss, and the ACC tournament MVP and First Team All-ACC member is primed to continue his exponential growth under Bennett. Guy is one of the most fun players to watch in the NCAA let alone the ACC, and his smile and swag on the court can only be described as infectious.
Then there’s De’Andre Hunter. This is likely the final season for Hunter wearing a Virginia uniform, and you don’t want to miss it. His athleticism is on par with—or, gasp, even more impressive than—Justin Anderson’s. He can dunk on fools (ask Joel Berry), make you look like your defensive skills are that of a toddler (ask Marvin Bagley), or rip your soul out with a banked in three-pointer as time expires (ask Louisville). He’s the reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year and is going to be a starter for the Hoos.
Mamadi Diakite spent part of his offseason working with the trainers that helped Victor Oladipo transform his game in the NBA, and no one can argue with big Jack Salt’s presence on defense. As a third year, Diakite is primed and ready for his Tony Bennett Big Man Jump. Salt, the lone senior on the squad, provides invaluable leadership and the ability to open up Virginia’s plethora of sharpshooters on offense.
The Hoonicorn Jay Huff, second year Marco Anthony, and fresh faces like Francesco Badocchi and Kihei Clark are all coming off the bench. Who knows...maybe the NCAA will feel generous and approve Braxton Key’s hardship waiver and give the Hoos another option.
Last year’s team lost. This year’s team has responded just about as perfectly in the offseason as you can ask. They’re motivated, talented, and ready to attack the new season. The window for Virginia Basketball to reach a Final Four or national championship isn’t closed. It’s wide open as this team actually has the potential to be better than last year.
I guess what I’m saying is, don’t give up on this team. The pieces are there, and I have no doubt that Coach Bennett will make that next big step, and soon. Don’t forget that Jay Wright could “never get it done in the NCAA tournament” until he could, and we know the heights that Villanova has achieved in the last three years.
Last year was undoubtedly a late disaster, this season is a new hope.