Never mind that he coaches for another Division I basketball team in this state. Old Dominion assistant Bryant Stith couldn't contain his joy Saturday night after UVa defeated No. 4 Syracuse 75-56 at John Paul Jones Arena. "WAHOO NATION STAND UP!!!!!" Stith, Virginia's all-time leading scorer, tweeted to his followers. "Congrats to Coach Bennett, his staff, and players for a job WELL DONE!!!!#champs." Stith, whose younger son, B.J., will join Tony Bennett's program this summer, is not the only former UVa player bursting with pride these days. Basketball alumni who have texted or called the Cavaliers' coaching staff in recent weeks, or posted congratulatory messages on Twitter, include Ralph Sampson, Junior Burrough, Cory Alexander, Norman Nolan, Assane Sene, Roger Mason Jr., Sean Singletary, Travis Watson, J.R. Reynolds, Mustapha Farrakhan, Andrew Kennedy, Sammy Zeglinski, Jontel Evans and Mike Scott. The sellout crowd at JPJ for the Syracuse game included Wally Walker -- who in 1976 led the Wahoos to their only ACC tournament title and first NCAA tournament appearance -- as well as Jamal Robinson, Tunji Soroye, Yuri Barnes, Dirk Katstra, Barry Parkhill and Jimmy Miller. The 7-4 Sampson, who was a three-time national player of the year in the early `80s, attended Virginia's game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta last month. Another former UVa center, Ted Jeffries, is the analyst on radio broadcasts of the Cavaliers' games. "This is a family, and the outpouring's been incredible," Bennett said Monday afternoon. "That's huge. One of the significant things, when I took the job, was connecting the past with the present. I hired Jason Williford because he was a great assistant coach and I wanted him, but also because of his ties to the university and what the program meant to him." The same was true, Bennett said, with Mike Curtis, a former UVa player who's now the school's strength and conditioning coach for basketball. "It's a special bond you have with the alumni," Bennett said, "and the fact that we have two of their own entwined in our staff is significant." Curtis and Williford returned to their alma mater in the spring of 2009, not long after Virginia hired Bennett away from Washington State. Williford was a starting forward on the UVa team that advanced to the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight in 1995. He remains close with many of his former teammates, who are thrilled with the team's resurgence under Bennett. "They're like, `Thanks for getting us back on the map and making us relevant again,' " Williford said Monday morning. Other former UVa players on Grounds include Katstra and Parkhill. Katstra is executive director of the Virginia Athletics Foundation and a senior associate athletics director. Parkhill, whose No. 40 has been retired in the Cavaliers' program, is associate AD for development. "I just love this team. I love these coaches," Parkhill said Monday. "It's such an incredible group and the most unselfish team ever. I know that I'm very lucky. I work here and get to know them." By knocking off the Orange, the `Hoos (25-5, 16-1) clinched the ACC regular-season title outright for only the second time, and the first since 1980-81. An ESPN audience watched Virginia outscore the `Cuse 48-28 in the second half. "There have been a lot of big games at home," said Parkhill, who in 1972 became first Cavalier to be named ACC basketball player of the year. "I don't think there was ever a game that had this much riding on it. It was far and away the biggest game ever played here in Charlottesville." The Cavaliers' performance against Syracuse left the college basketball world buzzing, and they moved up seven spots to No. 5 in The Associated Press poll released Monday -- their highest ranking in more than 12 years. Miller, who played on the UVa team that reached the Final Four in 1984, is CEO and president of the Miller Financial Group in Charlottesville. He's also a regular at JPJ who's close to the coaching staff. "Having been a part of a team that experienced success, it's really exciting to see these guys playing together as a team and experiencing success," Miller said. "I take great joy in that. I have a ton of respect for Coach Bennett and his staff and the way they've built this program."
Basketball Alumni Relishing Cavaliers' Success
VirginiaSports.com | Mar 6