From The Buzzer To Last Call: How Virginia celebrated an unprecedented title run

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MINNEAPOLIS — For the second straight season, it ended with a tearful embrace in a hotel room between father and son.

387 days ago, it was devastation. Ty Jerome huddled in a Charlotte hotel room with his father, his mother and his brother, trying to wrap their heads around what just happened.

Did we really just lose to UMBC? What do I do now? How can we ever live this down?

The circumstances this year could not have been more different.

It was 2:37 a.m. on Tuesday morning when Mark Jerome finally made his way up to the third floor meeting room at the Marquette Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, found his son and, with Ty’s face buried in his shoulder, standing in front of the open bar that was long since closed, got the hug that you don’t know you need until you get it.

And frankly, it’s a miracle Mark made it there at all.

It was well past midnight, after the players had cleared the court and the various media members that had finished writing their stories had begun snapping pictures on the title game floor, that Mark said to everyone and no one in particular, “I told Ty, if they get here, I’m never leaving the court, not after last year.”

And with that, the former TV newsman was off to celebrate by jumping in another standup hit by an unsuspecting on-air personality.


(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

De’Andre Hunter dribbled out the clock. The buzzer sounded. Black and gold streamers drifted to the floor as a second wave of bangs sent blue, orange and white tissue paper falling to the court and Virginia’s bench exploded onto the court

Guy found his fiancé, Alexa. Jerome found his mom and dad. Tony Bennett found his family after first finding Chris Beard. Roughly every former UVA athlete, from Chris Long to Joe Harris to Malcolm Brogdon to Justin Anderson to Devon Hall to Ralph Sampson, found their way to the elevated court at US Bank Stadium.

They did their media. They cut down the nets. They stood on the hastily erected stage, watching as One Shining Moment chronicled the greatest redemption story in the history of sports, a run to the 2019 National Title that featured More Shining Moments than should be possible in a single March.

There was Kihei Clark’s shot against Oregon. There was the back-tap from Mamadi Diakite that led to Clark chasing down a loose ball and finding Diakite for one of the most unlikely buzzer-beaters that you’ll ever see. There was the moment that Tony Bennett found his father, Dick, shoving a reporter out of the way to get the hug he’s been waiting so long for. There was the foul, the three free throws and the bedlam that ensued. There was De’Andre Hunter’s three that forced overtime.

Bennett never flinched, not even as watched the moment that no one thought possible 13 months ago: A ‘what did the five fingers say to the face?’ slap that permanently emblazoned Virginia’s name on the NCAA’s official bracket as champions.

Rob Dauster, NBC Sports

From there, it was back to the locker room, to the podium and, eventually, back to the hotel, through the mass of Virginia fans that had congregated on Marquette Ave, between 7th and 8th streets, waiting for their team to come home. The “To-nee, To-nee” chants never seemed to end. One fan suggested finding a Fiat to flip until he saw the Minneapolis police’s armored SWAT vehicle drive by, armed officers throwing mini-basketballs to anyone and everyone in the street through the hatch on the roof.

“Don’t worry about him, he’s young.”

At 1:08 a.m., word spread through the bars in the neighborhood that the team bus was back, sending streams of people directly into the barriers set up by police to ensure that the players would have access to the hotel’s entrance. The walk-ons came off first, followed by the coaching staff and Tony Bennett himself, flanked by SID and longtime friend Eric Bacher. Then came Hunter. And Guy. Jack Salt led a group of players in. Jerome was the last guy off the bus, making his way to the congregation of fans, ignoring, just for a moment, a father that needed some attention, too.

“22 years and I don’t get a hello.”

Everyone laughed.

Including the 22 year old.


(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

They celebrated exactly the way that you would expect a team coached by Tony Bennett to celebrate: With cookies and a fruit plate.

The team party could not have been more subdued, and the contrast between the party in that third floor meeting room and the hotel bar on the first floor could not have been more drastic. The bar had reached capacity, with security forcing hopeful drinkers to wait for someone to leave before they were allowed in.

“One in, one out.”

“I just want to get a drink.”

“Me, too. You can wait.”

What couldn’t wait was yet another rendition of ‘We Are The Champions,’ or an eardrum-bursting roar every time someone that even slightly resembled a player walked by. The savvy party-goers had their own supply to work with. The Surly Furious IPAs being taken out of the case in the lobby probably didn’t come from the bar. The Famous Grouse getting poured into the paper coffee cups that every hotel has stocked up definitely didn’t.

Up on the third floor, more than anything, it was relief that was palpable.

“We’re just so blown out emotionally,” one attendee said. After the last three games, who could blame them? “We’re just so used to having our hearts ripped out. So this is what winning feels like? Man ….”

Guy was the first player in the room, his trademark smile completely uncontainable as he walked into the room, balled fists held above his head. He hugged his dad, his stepdad, the rest of his family and, then, seemingly every single person in the room. He had lost the piece of net from his hat.

Mamadi Diakite had his piece of net. He also still had his uniform on, a blue national champions t-shirt the only thing standing between him and being able to run it back. His smile burst at the seams when the “Ma-ma-di” chant started.

Braxton Key, wearing a maroon velour sweatsuit, was next. Then came De’Andre Hunter, finding a way to slide in without being noticed. He found his family, taking pictures with all four generations of friends and relatives that had made the trip.

Jerome eventually made his way down, laughing as his uncle pulled another corona out of the pocket of his hoodie, but that was the end of it.

It hadn’t sunk in yet. The Wahoos had pulled off what seemed impossible, simultaneously setting fire to everything you thought you knew about Virginia while putting together a story arc that George R. R. Martin would consider too unrealistic to put in a film.

“How’s it feel, champ?” former UVA forward Justin Anderson asked the players still in the room as last night turned into this morning.

The silence said it all.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.