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Celebrating an unsung hero of Virginia basketball

Student manager Anna Williamson reflects on her four years at Virginia and how her role has shaped both herself and the program

<p>Williamson has celebrated some of the highest peaks in Virginia basketball history during her time with the program.</p>

Williamson has celebrated some of the highest peaks in Virginia basketball history during her time with the program.

Behind every successful college basketball program is a hardworking group of people — some athletes, some employees — that make the ultimate goal of winning a national championship possible. Most of the praise goes to the most visible of those participants. In Virginia’s case, all signs point to Coach Tony Bennett and players like Kyle Guy or De’Andre Hunter. However, there is also a lot of work behind the scenes that contributes to the quality of basketball that Cavalier fans have become accustomed to. 

Enter Anna Williamson, men’s basketball student manager and fourth-year College student, who just wrapped up her fourth season with the program. Williamson has fostered a love for the game of basketball since she was young, and has put in countless hours to help Virginia basketball succeed on the court. Recently, Williamson was awarded Student Manager of the Year by Grow the Game, a non-profit organization that provides student managers with resources and opportunities to kickstart their careers. Williamson discussed the achievement, along with her overall experience across the past four years in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. 

“I didn’t really expect anything, any of the success in this past month,” Williamson said. “I wasn’t looking for it. I just showed up and did my job every day.” 

The job of a student manager is a rigorous one and requires putting in long hours. Williamson’s responsibilities include showing up to practices an hour early to ensure the court was ready to go, the Gatorade mixed and the players in a good mood. Through this preparation, she still found time to have fun. 

“Sometimes we’ll have fun with it, mix [Gatorade] colors and make random mixes,” Williamson said. “To keep the players on their toes.”

Game days were even more intense, often lasting upwards of eight hours, and with Williamson’s responsibilities, she was almost always busy. Balancing this time commitment with her schoolwork was far from an issue for Williamson, who has gotten used to the time crunch over the last four years. 

“The nice thing is I really didn’t know anything different,” Williamson said. “So it wasn’t necessarily a challenge to fall into the schedule.”

However, those around Williamson — both within the basketball program and on the outside — have been supportive of her commitment to the program. Everyone around her recognizes her importance in helping the program operate smoothly  and therefore is able to be accommodating on both sides.

“Professors are generous and flexible, and communication is used,” Williamson said. “If the first few minutes of practice were missed for class, that was not a [big] deal.”

While the position is crucial to the everyday activities of a basketball program and the other members of Virginia speak highly of the student managers, Williamson knows when it’s time for others in the program to take the spotlight.

“I would try and go unnoticed, in a good way,” Williamson said. “To be able to step back and let them work out was the goal every day.”

Williamson has many fond memories of her time with the program — including junior guard Reece Beekman’s buzzer-beater in the 2021 ACC Tournament, Jay Huff’s 10-block performance in a 2020 win against Duke and learning how to make tea with Tomas Woldetensae. Huff was a player that Williamson particularly connected with. 

“Jay was always a good friend,” Williamson said. “He checked in on the first day to make sure I liked U.Va. all right.” 

Williamson also makes sure to stay in touch with players even after their departure and noted how her home city of Raleigh, N.C. was taking care of former Cavalier Casey Morsell. 

“She’s someone who’s selfless,” graduate student forward Jayden Gardner said. “She has a big heart and she cares for everybody. She has a willingness to sacrifice her time to just be with us and serve us. She’s on top of everything.”

Williamson also places great importance on the five pillars that Bennett has implemented as a part of the basketball program, particularly his focus on unity. While excellence on the court certainly matters, she has learned from Bennett that it is more important to come together as a team and maintain a sense of unity.

“I’ve learned way more [from Bennett] about life than basketball,” Williamson said. “He’s a very gracious guy. He forgets mistakes quickly, which I admire.”

The admiration is mutual. When the Cavaliers clinched the ACC regular season title in the season finale against Louisville, Bennett gave Williamson the honor of cutting down the final strands of the net. 

“It was the best,” Bennett said. “I joked that I didn’t think she ever took that net off. I think she might have slept with that thing on.”

Following graduation this spring, Williamson is staying in the Charlottesville area but pivoting her focus to a new passion — coffee. She will be opening up Revival Coffee + Kitchen, which will be located along Ivy Road, in October or November. 

“I look forward to serving the guys in a new way,” Williamson said. “And being right down the road from [John Paul Jones Arena], I’ll still be able to catch the games.” 

Williamson’s presence on the court and her achievements behind the scenes will be missed, but the Virginia program can rest assured she will be supporting the team from the stands.

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