Virginia Basketball Fans Need To Make Their Voices Heard
With an eight-game winning streak and a 3-0 record in the ACC, it makes sense that a featured columnist for the Virginia Cavaliers should be cranking out articles every hour in honor of this new development.
Believe me, I am truly elated over the current happenings with Tony Bennett and the men's basketball program. I just don't know what to say. In truth, I am almost afraid to jinx it.
Let's face it: the sky is not as sunny as everyone makes it out to be. Our three ACC wins have been against a team predicted to finish last in the conference, a team that did finish last in the conference in 2008-09, and a team predicted to finish 10th this season in the conference.
However, Virginia has posted some notable accomplishments already this season. Three times they have battled back from double-digit deficits for victories. They had more games in the first two months with 10 or fewer turnovers than they had all of last season. They have two more wins than all of last year!
Considering where we were a month ago, it's hard to believe that this is the same team.
As a result, Virginia has some impressive streaks and although the conference knows better than to buy them as ACC championship contenders, you have to applaud what they have accomplished so far.
Which leads me to the only real commentary I can have on these recent and shocking developments.
It's time, Virginia fans.
The apathy in the major sports programs has gone on long enough. We have been subjected to terrible performances over the past two years in both football and basketball. We have demanded to have a team that competes and plays at a high level with passion and determination.
It has arrived. The Cavaliers are a scrappy team that does not hang their head when things go bad. Instead, they have buckled down and fought through every screen, ran down each loose ball, and even learned a few inbound plays along the way.
They stress fundamentals and, even though they cannot compete on talent with most of the ACC teams, they have just enough hustle and heart to grind out victories.
It is time to do our part in turning around the program.
There is nothing like college basketball in the pantheon of sports. Last week I was watching the HBO special on Tobacco Road that chronicled the intense rivalry between Duke and North Carolina. Granted, parts of it made me physically ill as Virginia fan, but I was struck by the Duke players' comments on the Cameron Crazies.
Yes, yes, I know what all you Duke haters are thinking, Duke fans are usually painted up nerds that use cheer sheets and their parents' trust-funds to root for their team. I also know that it translates into victories.
To hear Duke players say that the Cameron Crazies got them about 10-15 points per home game really struck me. Those points could be the difference for the Cavaliers this season.
My favorite memories as a student at Virginia were watching the 2006-07 basketball season, the inaugural season at the John Paul Jones Arena. Due to its novelty, people actually showed up to view the palatial building, and the team's victories soon brought passion and hunger to the place. The atmosphere was like nothing I had ever seen before.
I know Virginia fans have a reputation as Zima-drinking wimps, as Colin Cowherd would tell you. However, if you were there or ever listened to those home games that season, you would think you had stepped into a mad house.
The acoustics are such that sound amplifies at the John Paul Jones Arena. It doesn't take a packed house to make it sound like one, but when everyone is up and screaming, the other team never really knows what hit them.
Case in point, the very first game ever at JPJA against the Arizona Wildcats proved what a hostile environment Virginia could have. The talented Pac-10 team raced out to a 16-point lead, dampening the pomp and circumstance surrounding the opening ceremonies.
However, thanks to Mamadi Diane's shooting and Sean Singletary's leadership, the team turned things around. They got some stops and their offense lit up to grab a victory and open things off with a bang.
Listening to the players afterwards, they gave credit to the fans. Adrian Joseph, Jason Cain, and former head coach Dave Leitao all had quotes that stressed the involvement of the fans and how they helped spur the team to victory.
However, no other game signifies the impact of the John Paul Jones Arena than the 2007 duel against Duke . Sure, everyone remembers the circus shot Singletary hit to win the game in overtime, but it is the reaction afterwards I will remember the rest of my life.
I always had trouble understanding phrases like "too loud to think" or deafening. However, deafening perfectly describes what happened after that ball dropped. It was like an invisible wave pushed me to the ground and, in that clamor, I could hear nothing.
My friend who worked the cameras at the time told me later on that the walls literally were shaking in overtime. I guess that's more than just poor $121 million construction.
In its first season, the Cavaliers lost one game at the John Paul Jones Arena. A team that was knocked out early in the NIT just a season ago was a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Well, things certainly did not stay rosy at Virginia. I remember the night the Cavaliers lost their cloak of invincibility at home, losing to Syracuse when Singletary had one of the worst performances of his career. Then the lights went out of the place the next month when Deron Washington's game-winning basket at the buzzer tore the hearts out of Virginia fans.
The losses led to cynicism and soon, the rocking crowd became a sea of empty seats. The mad house in Charlottesville had been replaced by a library.
Attendance numbers have suffered since, but with the latest winning streak, the fans are coming back.
Last Monday, the Cavaliers were able to bring over 10,000 people to see Virginia take on UNC-Wilmington. By comparison, in a nationally televised game during the fall semester against Penn State, Virginia could only muster 8,898 people to make the two-hour commitment to cheer on their team.
Last year, just over 9,000 fans showed up to watch the Cavaliers take on the Miami Hurricanes. This year, the attendance was 11,413, many of whom were rowdy students returning from their winter break.
Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot rest on our laurels. The road for Virginia is not going to get easier; in fact, it is going to get much more difficult. The important thing for the fans will be to stay true to their team. I promise you that there will be more bumps on the road this season. We cannot give up easily.
Tony Bennett's team is full of young guys still learning how to win. For many, this is their first exposure to success at Virginia. They need our support. Even when they stumble, even when they miss a rebound or a free throw, we have to keep cheering them on and help keep their heads up.
We may not know how far Virginia can go this year, but we do know one thing: With a raucous arena once more, they can go much further than if they don't. Instead of complaining about a lack of success, it is time to do something to change it.
Hope to see you at the Virginia Tech game!
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