The Virginia Basketball season gets underway in just one week. While nearly all of the focus has been on the upcoming 2019-20 season, it’s hard to fully put last season in the rear view mirror. And that’s fair, honestly, because last season — coupled with the way the 2018 season ended — was nothing short of a magical journey that ended in the program’s first NCAA title.
Now, it’s gotten the treatment it deserves (don’t think this lets you off the hook, 30 For 30...it doesn’t) as the ACC Network will air Unbelievable: Virginia’s Improbable Path to a Title tonight (October 30) at 8pm.
The special spans an hour, starting with a flashback to Virginia’s historic loss at the hands of UMBC in the 2018 NCAA tournament. As Cavalier fans are well aware, UVA became the first ever No. 1 seed — and the No. 1 overall seed at that — to lose to a No. 16 seed in the tournament’s history. You hear more detail as to how the players dealt with this, how they used a team whitewater rafting outing to move on, and the shift in the moods in the locker room.
After quickly highlighting Virginia’s 28-2 regular season record, something that often gets overlooked in the discussion of the season as a whole, all the focus shifts to the NCAA tournament.
One of the best parts — and a credit to producer David Pierpont and the crew for this — is that the entire story is presented without an overarching narrator. Instead, they use anecdotes from Virginia players, audio from game play, thoughts from Ralph Sampson, and statistical inputs from the Darden School’s Professor Robert Carraway. Head coach Tony Bennett and players De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Mamadi Diakite, and Kihei Clark are all interviewed in the hour-long documentary, and they all provide detailed insight into all of the biggest moments of the tournament.
While some of the stories and player mindsets had been shared via stories and post-game press conferences at the time, the level of detail provided about the most dramatic moments is incomparable. That style of story delivery is particularly effective in this documentary, especially with each game playing out in such a dramatic fashion.
Although games against Purdue, Auburn, and Texas Tech (rightfully) get most of the attention when the 2019 tournament is discussed, the documentary takes you back to the stress of Gardner-Webb, the stereotypical Virginia win over Oklahoma, and the grit of the Oregon matchup.
It’s a beautifully produced journey through the emotions of Virginia’s redemption story, and one that all Cavalier fans can’t miss.
I will never not love seeing Tony Bennett go full dad energy when he brought the stuffed monkey into the locker room after the Oklahoma game. The players loved it, it freed up the energy around the program, and it’s just hilarious to watch Bennett do this:
Clark’s standout game(s)
Clark isn’t used pervasively as a story-teller, but this documentary provided a glimpse into the team dynamics between the first year guard and his teammates. “There is kind of a different MVP to each game, starting with Oregon,” Guy stated, sitting at the base of an elaborate staircase. “Oregon’s was Kihei Clark.
The description of Clark’s performance against Oregon, especially Jerome’s explanation of the Ducks’ strategy. “Oregon’s plan, they were just kind of letting Kihei shoot open shots. I kept finding him and telling him, ‘Listen, they leave you open, you shoot the ball.’”
After the game, there had been some discussion about how Oregon had been talking about Clark’s inability to shoot, but this goes into more detail. “They were talking a lot, saying, ‘He can’t shoot’ or ‘let him shoot.’” Clark told the camera from Virginia’s practice gym at JPJ.
As Virginia fans are aware, Clark came up big in that game, one where points were at a premium. He finished with three made threes and one huge stare down of the Oregon bench.
THE PURDUE GAME
This goes hand-in-hand with the Clark segment, but my goodness give me all the Purdue final play content that is humanly possible. Over nine glorious minutes, you hear intricate details and reactions from THE PLAY. The personalities of each player and Bennett are evident as they discuss the missed free throw, the tip out, the pass, and the shot.
I can’t foresee a situation in which this sequence doesn’t give me chills, anxiety, and sheer joy simultaneously, but this is a moment that will never be forgotten.
The clutchest free throws
This is the first time I’ve heard (I think) and seen Kyle’s reaction to the bench between free throws two and three, or Jerome’s fear that the second free throw looked a little to the left. It adds background to one of the most incredible, clutch performances in tournament history.
How can the actual moment of clinching that National Championship not be a favorite moment? None of it really seems real, but this certainly helps make it feel that way. The utilization of photos of huge moments (see: Key block) is such an effective way to add to the video, and it’s well done throughout.
The “catch up” at the end felt a little bit like the last episode of HBO’s Band of Brothers where they tell you what happened to all of the characters when they returned from the war, but it’s effective.
This was an incredibly well done documentary by the ACC Network, and an absolute must-watch for Virginia fans. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to go back and rewatch every tournament game.
You can catch Unbelievable: Virginia’s Improbable Path to a Title tonight, October 30, at 8pm on the ACC Network.