Keeping the faith: How a dad and a TEDTalk guided UVA to history


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WFXR) — Yes, Virginia’s historic NCAA tournament run a year ago provided plenty of memorable plays and close finishes that we’ll be talking about for years to come.

The Kihei Clark rebound and subsequent Mamadi Diakite buzzer-beater in the Elite Eight. Kyle Guy’s free throws against Auburn in the Final Four. De’Andre Hunter’s clutch shooting in the championship.

But the Cavaliers’ path to redemption will be remembered for much more than the drama on the court.

During what became an unbelievable run to the national title, it was belief and faith that guided Virginia basketball from the depths of a historic loss to UMBC a year earlier.

“I believe our steps are ordered I think you walk and you do everything you can with the abilities you’ve been given as players, as coaches, and then you trust,” head coach Tony Bennett said the night before the championship game. “I just, I believe that. So the fact that we’re here, yeah, I think there’s been a hand in this. In my life, I’d be foolish not to believe that.”

In nearly every UVA press conference during the NCAA tournament, Bennett referred to a TEDTalk the team watched at the beginning of the season, which discussed using adversity to your advantage.

“If you learn to use it right, the adversity, it can buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way,” Bennett would quote.

For the Wahoos, the quote was relatable after becoming the first top-seed in the NCAA tournament to lose to a No. 16 seed.

“It was powerful. It was a unique TedTalk that spoke to the situation at hand,” Bennett said. “I just knew that would deepen us in ways on the court, off the court and what we believe and mark us for the right stuff.”

By the time Virginia earned a ticket to the Final Four in Minneapolis, Bennett was following in the footsteps of his dad, Dick Bennett, who guided Wisconsin to the national semifinals in 2000 (coincidentally by also beating Purdue in the regional final).

“I memorized his quote. He said a quote I never forgot. It stuck with me for that long,” Bennett said after UVA’s Elite Eight win in Louisville. “They asked him: Is this one of the greatest feelings that you’ve ever had, getting to the Final Four?He said this: From a feeling state, euphoria, yes, it is. But it doesn’t compare with faith, with kids, family, grandkids. He said because I know what truly matters, it enables me to enjoy what seems to matter like this. I’ve remembered that quote and tried my best to live by it. I want this program to honor what’s important to me, my faith and these young men through success and through failure.”

And even after the Cavaliers reached the mountain top of college basketball, Bennett’s message to his team sums up the gratitude for the journey they had just completed.

“I said, ‘remember this moment and please don’t change and remain as humble and thankful for all that took place and enjoy it,'” Bennett said when the Cavaliers returned to Charlottesville as national champs. “And there’s a proverb that says a desired accomplished is sweet to the soul and that’s probably the best way to describe it.

“It’s sweet to the soul.”

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