It was a night full of applause, cheers, tears, and excitement. The 2019 Virginia Men’s Basketball team celebrated their National Championship with “A Night with the National Champions” at John Paul Jones Arena on Friday night, and it didn’t disappoint. Dave Koehn hosted the event, and the evening centered around the team receiving their rings and raising the banner into the rafters at JPJ.
Athletic Director Carla Williams and University President Jim Ryan kicked off the extravaganza, and the pair was met with raucous applause and a standing ovation as they took the stage. Williams recognized the players in attendance before reading them a letter from the Seven Society.
Ryan, an eloquent and engaging speaker, offered his congratulations to the team and a couple relatable anecdotes. First, he recounted a tale of squealing at the sight of Ty Jerome in the team hotel in Minnesota, then of his wife wondering aloud if she could handle the overtime period of the National Championship game. He closed by presenting Coach Bennett with a motivational poster created especially for him that featured the win percentage graphs for the last three games of the season.
Tony Bennett took to the stage next, and he was a riveting speaker. Fans don’t often get to hear from Bennett in that lengthy of a speech, and the head coach didn’t disappoint. Bennett regaled the crowd with funny stories, but revealed that he reached his breaking point after the semifinal game with Auburn.
“I was sitting on the bed,” Bennett said, “and the floodgates opened. They really did, and I just sat there. I realized at that moment, all the ridicule, all the criticism, all the things that happened. At that moment it was crystal clear, it was all worth it. It absolutely was.”
Before closing, Bennett reminded those in attendance of his mantra about using adversity — the UMBC game in this case — as a ticket to get them somewhere they couldn’t have gone without it. To show he truly lived those words throughout the season, Bennett pulled out a ticket from that fateful game with the Retrievers before showing the crowd a ticket from the title game.
A video message from Jack Salt showed through the arena, as the lone senior from the title team was unable to attend. Next up on stage were De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome, who took part in a question and answer session with Koehn. In true “Big Three” fashion, Hunter did the least amount of talking and the trio ribbed each other to the delight of the crowd.
Finally, the whole team (minus Salt and Marco Anthony, who transferred to Utah State), came up on stage to receive the hardware. Once rings were put on (and in some cases, refused to come off), the banner was hoisted into the rafters.
A video set to Andy Grammer’s “Back Home” — including a personalized message from the artist to the Cavaliers — closed out the event. Cheers of U-V-A rained down as Koehn thanked everyone for coming.
The 2019-20 Hoos get the title defense underway on November 6th as Virginia heads to Syracuse to open the season. You can check the full schedule here.