Virginia doesn’t need Final Four validation, but drive for it still runs deep

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NEW YORK — “Where’s the champagne?”

That’s the question that former star Justin Anderson had as he burst into the Virginia’s locker room 15 minutes after the Cavaliers had finished cutting down the nets at the Barclays Center following a 71-63 win over North Carolina. The ACC tournament trophy, which had been lugged through the bowels of the arena by current star and tournament MOP Kyle Guy, sat on a chair in front of Isaiah Wilkins’ locker while Anderson went from player to player, interrupting interview after interview to make sure he dapped every single person wearing a championship snapback with a piece of net tied to it.

“Finish strong,” the Philadelphia 76ers’ small forward said. “Gotta finish strong now.”

MORE: Breaking down the Cavaliers’ NCAA tourney chances

Virginia has been here before. This is the fifth time in the last five years that the Wahoos have won some kind of ACC title. Just like this year, they won both the ACC regular season and tournament titles in 2014, adding a regular season title in 2015. No one else in the conference can come close to matching that, and considering the fact that they are in a conference with two Tobacco Road bluebloods that have won a national title in the last three seasons, it’s a remarkable achievement.

Think about it.

No program has had more success in the ACC in the last five years than Virginia.

But they haven’t done it in the tournament. They haven’t gotten to the Final Four. They were upset in the Sweet 16 by No. 4 seed Michigan State in 2014. The following year, the Spartans picked off No. 2 seed Virginia in the second round. In 2016, Virginia was again a No. 1 seed and held a late 15-point lead in the Elite 8 against Syracuse before blowing it in the final 10 minutes, costing themselves their best chance to date at getting to college basketball’s final weekend.

And that has become what this season for the Wahoos, at least from the outside. Is this the year that Tony Bennett’s style of coaching is validated with success in March, when they are the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and the top seed in the South?

“We went to an Elite 8, almost got to a Final Four, but the NCAA Tournament, you want to do as well as you can in that,” Bennett said. “Those are the tangible things everybody judges you on.”

Virginia is unquestionably the most accomplished team in college basketball. They won the ACC regular season title by a full four games. They won the ACC tournament title. They are the consensus No. 1 team in both polls. They are No. 1 in the RPI and on KenPom, the preeminent results-based and predictive metrics. They set a program record with their 31st win of the season on Saturday night, but “that record doesn’t mean anything if we don’t get to 37 wins,” Guy said.

The players in that locker room aren’t stupid. They aren’t naive. They know what people think about the way that they play. They know that grinding teams down defensively, that winning the way that they win is not the most thrilling or exciting brand of basketball. In an era where teams are getting smaller and faster and more perimeter-oriented at every level of the game, Virginia is putting together what may turn out to be the single-best defensive season that we’ve seen from a team in the KenPom era.

“Everyone’s lying if they’re saying they don’t hear any of that or they don’t ever think about it,” Guy said, acknowledging that it’s compounded by the fact that they’ve yet to get to a Final Four in the Bennett-era. “We just try to say in our own lane, blinders on like horses, don’t worry about any of the outside noise. But you definitely notice when watching another college basketball game and people are sh***ing on us.”

That’s where the motivation comes from.

That’s part of why so many former Wahoos were perched behind Bennett’s bench on Saturday night. From Anderson to Joe Harris to Akil Mitchell to Evan Nolte, the alumni that were able to make it to Brooklyn on Saturday night did.

“Once you’re a part of the UVA program, you’re part of the family and that’s indicative of us being on the floor right now, being behind the bench tonight,” Harris said. “So I want [a Final Four] for him. I want it for him for the validation.”

The question is whether or not validation should be needed.

The idea that a team or a program is not ‘legit’ because they have not had a Final Four run in the NCAA tournament has always been silly to me. Anything can happen in a one-game elimination event like the NCAA tournament, especially when dealing with a sport like basketball that is being played by 19-22 year olds. Wild stuff always has and always will happen. It’s what makes the NCAA tournament great, and it’s why judging a program based off of nothing but tournament success is unfair.

“It’s March, dude. Anything can happen,” Guy said. “The basketball gods haven’t been in our favor.”

“To win a regular season ACC, that’s the long haul. That’s big. That’s tough,” Bennett said.

But at some point, the wins have to come.

And Virginia has never been better set up to make a run in March than this season.

Whether you like it or not.

“It’s just funny,” Ty Jerome said. “Trae Young might not even be in the tournament, and that’s not a knock on him. He’s a great player. Marvin Bagley deserves all the attention he gets. Deandre Ayton the same way. It’s not a knock on those guys, and ESPN has the right to cover whatever they want.”

“But if we win it all they’ll have no choice but to cover us.”

“If we haven’t gotten the respect now,” Anderson said, “we don’t need it.”

“What we do works.”

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.