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Orange-clad Wackos fire up Cav faithful at home

S o you decide to go to a Virginia men's

basketball game.

You get there 15 minutes before tipoff and find a seat in the upper area of the student section.

A few minutes into the game, Willie Dersch strokes a three from downtown. Or maybe Donald Hand steals the ball and passes to Adam Hall for an eye-popping slam dunk in transition.

As you cheer, you notice something strange near the floor. A long-haired fan wearing an orange shirt bounds up and down ebulliently, pumping his fist in the air. The people on either side of the long-haired guy are going crazy too. And wait a second - they're all wearing orange, more specifically, orange shirts with "UVA" written across the front in blue block letters.

As the game progresses, the orange detachment remains standing for the entire game. They cheer. They start various chants, whether it's a request for "De-fense!" or yelling "CBA!" at a player with limited pro prospects. When the game is over, win or lose, they applaud respectfully as the Virginia team jogs off the court.

You've just encountered fourth years Deniz Selman, Grant Kronenberg, Jason Webster, April Park and Mike Satlin. They call themselves the Wahoo Wackos, and they're some of the most loyal and recognizable fans the Virginia basketball team has.

Their numbers may change from game to game, but this quintet has been there through it all: the last dismal year of the Jeff Jones era and Pete Gillen's first campaign with a heavily undermanned squad. Now, they are getting ready to cheer on the Cavaliers one more time.

"It is kind of sad," Satlin said. "This is the beginning of the resurgence of U.Va. basketball and next year's team will likely be better than this year's. But it's kind of cool to be in on the foundation of what will probably be a long and successful era."

The Wackos have attended every home game played while school was in session in each of the last three seasons. Since Virginia's 1996-97 home finale against Maryland, they have occupied front row seats behind the basket adjacent to the Cavalier bench.

Getting there early enough to ensure those seats day in and day out requires a lot of time, especially for the big Virginia games against Duke or North Carolina, but the Wackos say it's worth it.

"We like to feel like part of the game," Webster said.

"I used to play basketball back in the day," Park said. "It's really fun to come out and watch them and get really into it. It's kind of a stress reliever from school, something fun to obsess about."

While it's nice to be close to the game, being able to interact with the players is a special attraction for the Wackos. Especially when they have a chance to joke around with the opposition.

"We're not that bad, a lot of people do it a lot worse," Park said. "It's fun because usually the players react. We've had some fun signs and stuff like that. The opposing players a lot of times talk back and joke around with us, and it's really cool to say, 'Yeah, I joked around with Khalid El-Amin.' Most people don't get to say that."

The El-Amin incident even gave the Wackos an indirect mention on ESPN. The group offered the stocky UConn guard some pizza during pregame warmups.

El-Amin was not pleased.

"We were just trying be nice and offer him some pizza," Kronenberg said. "He got pretty offended, I think we touched a nerve."

Selman, who is probably the most recognizable of the group with his glasses and long curly locks, had a memorable run-in with burly FSU forward Oliver Simmons, when Selman decided to join the Seminoles in their shoot-around.

"I got a rebound, and I was spotting up to take my three and he came over and tried to get me to give him the ball," Selman said. "He was like, 'Give me the ball.' And I was like, 'No, I'm gonna take a shot.'

"Instead of just letting me shoot and getting the rebound, he went over to one of the ... ushers and he told on me," he said.

The all-time favorites of the Wackos, however, are Clemson's Harold Jamison and UNC's Brendan Haywood, who apparently prefer to spend more time talking trash and less on the game.

Haywood and Jamison "talk back, they play [around], they don't pay attention to the game at all," Kronenberg said.

The Wackos are a godsend in a population of Virginia fans populated by apathy - and worse, negativity.

"There's nothing that can be gained out of that," Satlin said. "Last year we were just so undermanned. To yell out 'Willie, you suck!', why are you even in the arena?"

Each Wacko has his own favorite memory. Kronenberg, the self-proclaimed No. 1 fan of former Cav Monte Marcaccini, preferred Virginia's 81-74 victory over Maryland in the 1996-97 regular season finale that ensured a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

"That was the first time we were on the floor," Kronenberg said. "Winning that game, plus with Harold [Deane] and Jamal [Robinson] leaving, it was cool to send them out in that fashion."

Selman, meanwhile, remembered Virginia's heartbreaking Feb. 11, 1997, 62-61 loss to Duke.

"That really was the starting point, as far as my passion for Virginia basketball goes," he said. "Before I came here, I really didn't root for U.Va. ... If we can beat Duke then I don't care if we win any other game. That'd replace anything else. My hatred for Duke goes way back."

By far the best moment for the Wackos, though, came in Virginia's 78-74 victory over Clemson, Feb. 21, 1998. After the buzzer, Donald Hand skied in for a dunk and ended up slamming the ball in over the heads of Selman and Webster, who had led the charge onto the floor.

"If you're sitting halfway up, how are you gonna catch Donald Hand after he dunks after the game's over?" Webster said. "You don't get that 10 rows up, unless it's a really bad dunk."

But with the tipoff of tonight's exhibition game with the Aussie All-Stars, the countdown to the end of the Wackos' existence begins.

"We'll be asking to sit down here" next year, Park said. "But we [will] wanna sit in the section where people don't get up and don't cheer. Hopefully we can help them rally. It'll be very sad, I'll miss [being close to the floor] a lot."

They still have one more year, however. One more year to bounce up and down, one more year to cheer, one more year to, as Satlin put it, "support your team and make a fool of yourself."

And maybe, just maybe, if the Cavs make the NCAAs and find themselves paired against the Huskies, the Wackos can offer a few slices of pepperoni to El-Amin one more time.


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