That was the beginning of a lasting friendship that inspired Sy’s epic journey to Minneapolis, where he witnessed UVA’s overtime victory over Texas Tech to become the NCAA champion for the first time on school history.
After watching the tournament’s first two weekends ravenously from Macao, Sy decided after UVA won in the Elite Eight round that he had to come to the United States to see how it ended. He messaged Salt, who offered tickets so that Sy could be seated behind the UVA bench with Salt’s family.
There was just one problem: Sy had nowhere to stay.
Enter the popular “UVA Hoops” Facebook group, with its 16,000 members (including family members of UVA basketball players). With just two days before the Final Four, Sy turned to the page for help; his budget could not accommodate the expensive hotel rooms and Airbnbs.
Sy hopscotched from Macao to Hong Kong, South Korea, then Chicago and finally Minneapolis, clocking nearly 26 hours of travel.
As he traveled the 7,500-mile route, he sought advice and received a loving embrace from the UVA community, which flooded him with suggestions and moral support.
UVA alumni and Minneapolis residents Hillary and Cameron Wallace were watching the posts and decided they had to help.
“I was kind of in awe of his courage to buy a plane ticket and come to Minneapolis, where he had no place to stay,” said Hillary, a 2002 studio art graduate. “I have two little boys and my heart wanted to respond immediately and say, ‘Come stay with us.’
“People were really following his story and rooting him on,” she added.
By Friday evening, they offered Sy their basement bedroom. They scrambled to get the room in order, even laying a UVA blanket and basketball on the bed. Early the next morning, Cameron headed to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to fetch Sy, who works with at-risk youth for the YMCA in Macao.
Once he was settled at the house, Sy and the family were on the move.
Hillary said they went to the team hotel several times so Sy could meet up with Salt. One of those visits ended with an incredibly sweet gesture. As the Wallace family, with 10-year-old Harry and 6-year-old Louie, waited downstairs, Sy went up to the team floor.
“It was where the team and family members were staying, and Mike was sort of treated like a family member,” she said.
Sy told Salt how welcoming the Wallace family had been to him. As he turned to head back down to meet them, Salt stopped him. “Jack said he wanted to give the boys basketballs,” Sy said. The 6-foot-10 center then grabbed two balls, signed them and asked Sy to give them to the boys.
“Jack is so considerate,” he said. “A great guy.”