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These three years have been a lifetime for two of Virginia basketball's finest. In the spring of 1998, Chris Williams and Adam Hall made a decision that would not only affect their respective careers, but also the fate of the Virginia men's basketball program.

The Cavaliers were coming off a difficult season in which they had only seven players on scholarship. Most teams have close to 13 scholarship players a year. Virginia ended the 1998 season with an 11-19 record, and longtime coach Jeff Jones was forced to resign.

In what was an abysmal year for the Cavaliers, there was a silver lining in the dark and gloomy clouds over University Hall. Earlier in the year, Jones had received commitments from two blue-chip high school players who could provide the one thing that Virginia desperately needed: talent.

But there was a catch. With a new head coach coming, both players wanted to take a step back and make sure they made the right decision. Who could blame them? Both are from the South, so it was common sense to look closer to home, especially considering that the coach who captivated them was now gone.

It was up to new head coach Pete Gillen to convince the two recruits that it was worth their while to stick with his program. To show how important they were to the program, Gillen visited Hall at his home in Katy, Texas, just one day after he was hired as basketball coach. Gillen told the young man that while there would be bumps in the road initially, he - along with Williams - would be his building block.

Hall, an explosive athlete, is the Cavaliers' best defender and offensive spark plug.

"I could've gone to Michigan State and gotten all the glory," Hall said. "But it wasn't about that. It's about learning and working hard, and coming in and making this a top-10 team."

As freshmen, they provided leadership and memorable moments on a team that was looking for points of promise. In his first college game, Williams scored a double-double, a feat only one other Virginia freshman has done in his first game. Eight games later, Williams threw up 34 points, a record for the most points scored by a freshman. Hall, on the other hand, was quickly making his name as the Cavaliers' best on-ball defender.

Williams soon received the nickname "Big Smooth" from his teammates because he was never too aggressive but his numbers were always bigger than expected on the stat sheet. Williams is still smooth on offense. He never appears to rush his game and lets the offense come to him. In his first year, he was rewarded for his stellar play with the ACC's freshman of the year award.

Although the team struggled through a 14-16 season that year, Virginia was much improved with the additions of Hall and Williams. The two standouts earned spots on the USA Men's Junior World Championship team later in the summer and represented the University well by helping the Americans reach the Gold Medal game.

"When you play in a USA basketball all-star game, you learn quickly," Hall said. "If you don't play defense there, they make you look stupid. I wanted to go out and show that there was now talent at Virginia."

The impact of the two players reached off the court as well. After they envisioned how far the path that Hall and Williams had forged could take Virginia, four highly rated recruits signed on.

During the duo's sophomore season at Virginia, the direction the program was heading became ever apparent. The Cavaliers won 19 games, nine in the ACC. Williams led the team in scoring with 15.5 points a game and made the all-ACC second team.

Hall played his part by consistently shutting down the opponent's best player. He also contributed several huge plays during the season, including the game-winning three-pointer in overtime against No. 17 Maryland at the end of the season.

The team made the postseason for the first time in three years and played in an exciting NIT game against Georgetown that went down in triple overtime. Williams played the star, scoring 23 points in front of a packed house. The University Hall crowd roared with excitement, a far cry from two years ago when Virginia routinely walked off the court demoralized.

Williams, nicknamed "Big Smooth," quietly gets the job done, day in and day out. He was named ACC freshman of the year in 1999.

Last season they took another step closer as the Cavaliers won 20 games for the first time in six years and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in four seasons. Both players received honors, with Williams being named third-team All-ACC and Hall making the All-ACC defensive team.

"I love playing defense," Hall said. "It's all about heart and pride. I know that I can guard anybody. That's something I'm going to try to instill in my teammates."

The Associated Press ranked Virginia as high as sixth during the 2000-2001 season. With Williams and Hall as the foundation, the basketball program had launched itself back in the national spotlight.

But by no means have they achieved what they set out to do when they made that ever-important decision to come to Virginia. Entering their fourth and final year at Virginia, both Hall and Williams plan on taking the program from the bottom, when they entered, all the way to the top. Yes, that means a national championship.

"I want to do really good in the tournament this year," Williams said earlier this preseason. "We have all the parts this season, and if we work at it, we can go all the way. That was our goal when we came here. I'm not predicting anything, but we can go far."

Adam Hall echoed those sentiments, saying, "I'm not going to predict anything, but our goals are obvious. We want to keep taking that next step up. We have moved up each year, and we all know where the next step takes us."

Looking back over the past three years, you might wonder if Williams and Hall were happy with their decision to stay with Virginia. You might wonder if passing up the chance for instant success was worth three years of up-and-down growth. Their responses are overwhelmingly positive.

"I am very happy with my decision," said Williams, who was very close to switching his commitment to the University of Alabama, located in his home state. "I was able to meet a lot of people and have a great college experience at the University of Virginia. I am very happy with my decision."

"I never thought twice about not coming to this school," Hall said. "I didn't pick the school because of Jeff Jones. I picked the school because I loved it. I wanted to come to and help a program out, and that was my final decision."

So the next time you run into one of these blue-chippers-turned-saviors, you might want to thank them for deciding to come to Virginia and for becoming the foundation for a team that now has its sights set on an ACC championship...and more.


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