When they learned of the tragedy that struck the University of Virginia football program in November, Anthony Gill and his wife, Jenna, immediately began thinking about how they could help the team’s players and coaches heal.
Gill’s sport of choice, of course, is basketball, not football, but his years at UVA helped shape him. He remains committed to his alma mater and to Charlottesville, two communities to which Jenna also has strong ties. And so the Gills reeled at the news that defensive end D’Sean Perry and wide receivers Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler had been slain in a Nov. 13 shooting that wounded two other UVA students, including tailback Mike Hollins.
“We know how close-knit the community is there,” said Gill, a forward with the NBA’s Washington Wizards. “The University is the city, and there’s no escaping it. Everywhere you go, it’s a reminder of what transpired with the team. So we wanted to try to help out as much as we could. We put our brains to it and we thought, ‘What better way than to get them to a game?’ We were just trying to refresh their minds and get their minds off of [everyday concerns].”
And that’s exactly what happened Friday, when three busloads of Wahoos, about 100 players and staffers in all, traveled to D.C. as guests of the Gills and the Wizards. The UVA contingent saw Washington take on San Antonio at Capital One Arena. On a night when the 6-foot-8 Gill was a plus-10 in 18 minutes off the bench, the Wizards defeated the Spurs, 136-124.
“It was an awesome experience,” Virginia head football coach Tony Elliott said. “Really, really humbled that Anthony Gill would put that together for us and make it available for our guys to be able to come up and watch. And, man, he played well, too.”
Gill, who’s from High Point, North Carolina, spent one year at the University of South Carolina before transferring to UVA in the spring of 2012. After sitting out the 2012-13 season – the NCAA’s rules for transfers were different then – he became one of the ACC’s top post players. During the three seasons Gill played for the Cavaliers, they went 89-19 and made three trips to the NCAA tournament. Virginia advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in 2014, to the second round in ’15, and to the Elite Eight in ’16.
That the Gills would reach out to the football program is “an indicator of how strong the UVA family is,” Elliott said, “and it doesn’t just reside in one area. It crosses all of the different walks of life on Grounds, from academics to athletics to everything else that’s involved with UVA. They were really, really gracious, and the guys were really, really grateful. They had a good time. And what it does, too, is it gives us an opportunity to be together as a team. So that’s what I was most grateful for: the opportunity just to have these guys outside of football spending time together as a team.”
Among the players who attended the game in D.C. was running back Perris Jones.
“It was a great experience,” Jones said. “I know for a lot of guys, it was their first time going to an NBA game, and it was my first time in a long time, so it was definitely something that we all were very appreciative of. And as coach Elliott said, it just shows you how deep the UVA connection and the UVA family runs. It was a great team-bonding event, and overall it was just fun to be able watch professional athletes do what they do best. It was a great time, and we were all really, really grateful for it.”
The Gills worked with the Wizards to accommodate such a large group.
“The Wizards were amazing,” said Gill, who’s in his third season with the team. “We told them what we wanted to do, and they said, ‘OK, we’ll try to find any way that we can to make it happen.’ It was tough trying to work around the football team’s schedule. They have a lot going on, and for them to be able to drive two hours, I was thankful that they were able to make it out.”
At the game, the Hoos received vouchers, courtesy of the Gills, for use at the arena’s concession stands.
“So the guys were well fed, and then we were recognized,” Elliott said. “The guys got to set themselves up on the big screen, and they had a chance to kind of wave to the crowd.”
Jones said: “That actually was my section. I was just below the camera, so I didn’t get in the shot, but I was right there.”
Elliott spoke to Jenna Gill at the game. The Hoos had to head back to Charlottesville before he could meet Anthony Gill, Elliott said. “But I look forward to an opportunity to host him and his family here with UVA football. I’ve heard nothing but great things about him, and just watching him on the court, you can tell by the way that he plays, the way that he carries himself, his body language, that he’s an awesome guy.”
That Gill would go out of his way to help others would surprise no one who had the good fortune to meet him on Grounds.
“If you’re around him or you’ve been his teammate, everybody could probably say the same thing: He is just one of the best people that you’ll ever be around,” Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris, who played with Gill at UVA, told The Washington Post in a profile that ran last month.
The football team has received an outpouring of support from the extended UVA family since Nov. 13, Jones said, and that’s “shown the strength that we have amongst ourselves and how deep our culture runs. We’ve had a lot of [alumni] come back and support us at practice; a lot of guys from previous years and teams come speak to us. They’ve really shown up and shown out, and the UVA community has just shown support and love, which has been very much appreciated, and needed. It makes things a lot easier and helps us move forward in the best way possible.”
Gill, whose teammates in Washington include another former UVA standout, Jay Huff, said he’s “just so thankful that they were able to come. I didn’t want this thing to be like, here’s a former player providing tickets. I didn’t want it to be that at all. I provided different ideas for them to be able to choose from, and they chose just coming to the game and watching. I was just so thankful they were able to get out of Charlottesville and kind of take a break for a little bit and get some food. And we won, so that was great.”