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A Night with the National Champions: Men’s basketball celebrates their title

Thousands come to John Paul Jones Arena to witness a tribute to the 2018-19 men’s basketball national champions

<p>The national championship banner went up into the rafters Friday night.</p>

The national championship banner went up into the rafters Friday night.

Thousands came to John Paul Jones Arena Friday night to witness A Night with the National Champions, a tribute to the men’s basketball team, the 2018-19 NCAA DI National Champions.

“My message is simple — let’s enjoy tonight and celebrate a national championship,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “That’s all I’m worried about.”

Just over five months after Virginia won the first men’s basketball national championship in school history by beating Texas Tech 85-77 in overtime, players and fans alike came together for a special night at JPJ.

Former Virginia guards Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy were among the many Cavaliers to return to Charlottesville for the celebration.

“I was so excited for this weekend,” Jerome said. “I get to experience this night with all the wonderful fans, my teammates, the wonderful coaching staff and my family.”

Virginia basketball has come a long way under Bennett, even before winning a national championship.

“Before 2013, [Virginia] had exactly one 30-win season over the course of its history,” Virginia sports announcer Dave Koehn said. “In the six years since then, Virginia has averaged 29.7 wins per season.”

The Cavaliers did it against all odds. They beat Purdue after a miraculous buzzer-beater led to an overtime win.

“That Purdue game with all that was at stake and the answering back and forth and drama at the end — that was the highest-level game I’ve been a part of,” Bennett said.

They beat Auburn after a late three-pointer and three free throws from Guy led Virginia to the first national championship game in school history.

The national title game required more late-game heroics, with Hunter’s three forcing overtime, which Virginia went on to win.

“If all you did was to look at the statistics, you would know that we weren’t supposed to win any one of those last three games,” University President Jim Ryan said.

Virginia’s title run was certainly improbable, but perhaps more so was the team’s resilience to bounce back from its historic first-round loss in 2018.

“What defined your success was the not the final seconds of a game in April,” Virginia Athletics Director Carla Williams said, reading a letter from the Seven Society. “Your journey was much longer — founded upon tenacity and resilience as you accomplished the most extraordinary turnaround in college basketball history.”

Bennett made a nod to the incredible journey Virginia men’s basketball completed — from being the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed to winning a national championship — by bringing with him two tickets. One was from the UMBC loss in 2018, and the other was from the Texas Tech victory in 2019.

“If you learn to use adversity right, it’ll buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone before,” Bennett said while holding up the two tickets.

The tribute ended with the 2018-19 national champions receiving their rings and the national championship banner going up into the rafters.

The men’s basketball team starts their quest to repeat their success Wednesday, Nov. 6 against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.