UVA’s Journey To The NCAA Title Game

Sports

Virginia’s road to this national championship game hit quite the pothole last year with the historic loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round. The Cavaliers endured yet more turbulence over the summer, in the form of a team-building whitewater rafting trip on the New River organized by coach Tony Bennett.
  
“Some of our guys were scared to death,” Bennett said, singling out guard De’Andre Hunter.
  
Center Mamadi Diakite fell in that category, too, when Bennett sneaked under water and grabbed his leg, uncertain what lurked beneath the surface.
  
After the previous season ended so startlingly, the Cavaliers brought into the fall a strong bond from such a painful experience. The rafting trip further strengthened those ties.
  
“The coaches looked sort of like players. We could interact and have fun. That hierarchy wasn’t here,” Diakite said. “We were just playing around.”
  
When Bennett addressed the team before the Purdue game in the South regional final, pondering the journey that took them to the verge of the Final Four, he teared up as he spoke. Bennett thought back to that summer day when he wondered what the coming year would bring.
  
“It was the most beautiful setting just floating down the river with these guys,” Bennett said.

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