Knock on hardwood

Flirting with optimism as a Virginia sports fan

With a Virginia alumnus for a father, I have been at least a nominal fan of Virginia sports for my entire life. Dad played a significant role in shaping my expectations, and sat me down at a young age to tell me Virginia fans can’t have nice things. I learned a number of new words while listening to him bemoan the Virginia basketball team in the depths of its struggles.

Despite my predisposition to assume the worst, I started formally following Virginia sports in a time of prosperity. Since my admission to the University in January 2012, I have attended almost every home basketball game and several on the road. That year represented a marked improvement from previous years — the first time Virginia made the NCAA tournament since 2007.

But a combination of injury, attrition and a horribly under-seeded first round opponent in Florida gave the season an anticlimactic ending. Further indications of divine hatred against Virginia came the following season, when early losses cost the young team a tournament bid before ACC play even started.

Virginia’s history gives its current season a particularly jarring feel. Every time the team is about to revert to its cursed norm, Justin Anderson symbolically chases down fate and rejects it at the rim while doing the same to an opposing player’s attempted layup. Regardless of how this season ends, Virginia has already had one of the greatest basketball seasons in program history and has the potential to achieve unprecedented post-season milestones.

In light of this success, I don’t know how to feel in tight games. In past years it was easy to assume the opponent would make a lucky buzzer beater in every close game because history supported this fact. But in the past few weeks, I have found myself expecting to win close games, even when trailing, and I have been right.

Tony Bennett, who should be a no-brainer for ACC coach of the year, has elevated the program to a position that made te recent Duke and North Carolina game a match to decide third place in the ACC. There is no better feeling than watching a game in which your hated rival can only cement your team’s spot at the top of the standings — all while laughing maniacally and shouting “dance, puppets!”

Beyond the realm of basketball, the University’s perennially great all-around sporting tradition continues to excel. Earlier this year, I annoyed my Hokie cousin by casually mentioning that we had won a national championship in tennis in the last year.

This prompted me to recently check how many more national championships Virginia has won compared to Tech’s impressive zero. I found out — trusting as I do in Wikipedia’s complete factual accuracy — Virginia has won a national championship in some team sport five years in a row. With a number of great sports team this spring — including baseball, tennis and basketball — it is not unreasonable to think we might extend that streak.

One team remains missing from the realm of successful Virginia sports. After winning just six games in the last two years, it is safe to say that Mike London has a lot to prove. Though the bad taste of last season is hardly out of my mouth, I am weirdly optimistic about the future of Virginia football. With two five-star recruits and a generally strong recruiting class coming in, next season holds a lot of potential. Maybe the recent basketball win-streak has skewed my perception, but it seems we have shifted from the days of “U.Va. sports are great, but…” to simply being able to admit, “U.Va. sports are great.”

Christian’s column runs biweekly Fridays. He can be reached at

Published February 27, 2014 in Life

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