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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.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.