Photos: Inside Saturday’s National Championship Celebration

University of Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett first heard the song – “Stronger Than I’ve Ever Been” – in September, and immediately shared its message with his team.

“If you knock me down, I get up again, I get up again,” the chorus goes. “Born unstoppable, I get up again. Now I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.”

It was a fitting message for a team that fought their way back from a stunning first-round upset last year to this year’s national title game. Before that big game, Frankie Badocchi played the song one last time for his teammates, on a piano in a Minneapolis hotel ballroom.

The next time they heard it, they were national champions, and it was playing over the loudspeakers of UVA’s Scott Stadium, where thousands of fans had gathered to celebrate the team and the program’s first national championship.

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It was a joyful scene, with children in UVA jerseys running around, tournament highlights playing on the video board and huge crowds of fans – many of them sporting brand new national championship gear – filling one side of the stadium, spilling over into the upper deck.

On the field, students danced to music blaring near the stage as they waited for the team to come out. A few yards away, former UVA football star Chris Long played with his small son on the field he once dominated on defense.    

Bennett reacts to the huge crowd as he and the team emerge from the tunnel. (Photos by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Bennett, when he led his team out, seemed amazed.

“You hope for something like this, but this is beyond what we expected,” he told the crowd, chants of “Tony! Tony!” ringing through the air as afternoon rain clouds cleared. “How you have embraced us is truly special.”

Bennett deflected credit to his players as they assembled beside him on stage, noting that their story – rising from a historic lost to a historic championship – will go down in sports history.

“They are part of one of the greatest stories I have ever seen written,” he said. “It will be told over and over again.”

Thousands came to celebrate that story’s happy ending, among them UVA basketball legend Ralph Sampson, who addressed the crowd after attending every game the team played in the NCAA Tournament. He noted that the day marked a special anniversary for him as well.

“Forty years ago today was my official visit to the UVA,” he said. “It was also my mother’s birthday. She turned 81 today, and how special it is to be here 40 years later.”

“For this team to come back one year later and be here,” he said. “It’s the best story in college basketball history.” Noting he wore the same pair of tennis shoes to each game, he promised to bring them back next year.

“I’ll wear them next year, so we can do it twice.”

Dave Koehn, the play-by-play announcer for Cavalier radio broadcasts, interviewed several players, each one drawing a huge roar from the crowd as they stood up. Each one of them talked about how much they relied on each other – on their teammates and their coaches – to get to this moment.

“I’ve met my best friends for life at this school,” said team captain Jack Salt, who graduates in May. “The bond I have with these guys is something I will carry with me long after basketball.”

Asked how he wanted his year and time at UVA to be remembered, third-year guard Ty Jerome said simply, “I hope people think of me as a good teammate, a good person off the court, and a national champion.”

The players also showed off some hidden talents. Forward Mamadi Diakite, who speaks five languages fluently, taught the crowd what “national champion” sounds like in Malinke, one of several national languages in his home country of Guinea.

Badocchi again sent the team and the crowd off with a song, this time playing the anthem of the NCAA Tournament, “One Shining Moment”.

Check out some more photos from the afternoon.

Members of UVA’s club softball team were among the students celebrating on the field.
Cheerleader Brooke Burnette was with the team in Minneapolis and handed out hundreds of posters to eager fans on Saturday.
Cheerleader Brooke Burnette was with the team in Minneapolis and handed out hundreds of posters to eager fans on Saturday.
Twins William and James enjoyed their first national championship experience.
Khalian McLaurin went to UVA; her husband David “married into this.” It looks like their baby – due in June – will be a Wahoo too.
Superfan Som Patasomsit has been come from Richmond to every home football game since 2009, and been a UVA basketball fan since Ralph Sampson’s day. He was thrilled to be there Saturday.
Fans embraced Tony's Bennett's five pillars right along with the team.

Media Contact

Caroline Newman

Associate Editor Office of University Communications