CHARLOTTE – A few weeks ago, Virginia coach Tony Bennett sat at a table in the Spectrum Center during the basketball media day at the Spectrum Center, where the Cavaliers had caught the most unlikely loss of the program in the NCAA tournament seven months earlier.
After the Virginia players were the first No. 1 seed they lost to No. 16, they went off the floor of the arena confused that night, and they did not know how to put their disappointment into words.
Then they listened in the locker room as Bennett poignantly talked about how he should possess the moment and how he should serve the players as inspiration for the players returning to a completely different end of the season. They hinted that Bennett's news continues to go against Towson's visit.
"None of us left it behind and tried to block it," said senior center Jack Salt about the 74-54 loss to Maryland-Baltimore County in the last sixteen. "We try to learn from it and what can we do?" Not even to prevent this scenario, but how we can become better players and teammates.
"The coach did a really good job trying to give us different ways. As a team, we met and talked about it, and I think we are in a really good place now. "
The fifth-placed Cavaliers (31-3 last season and the tournament's best overall seed) bring back three starters, including guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, both juniors. Guy top scored Virginia top scorer last season and was selected as the first-team All-ACC in the preseason annual media poll released on October 25. Jerome was voted second team.
Guy and Jerome were the only players to score double digits in the defeat of UMBC, but they went up to two to eleven with three hands and paid five out of the seven sales of the Cavaliers.
About a month after the loss, Guy posted on his Facebook page a letter he wrote in February that contained: "If you're looking for an apology, you'll always find one. If you are looking for an opportunity, you will always find one. "
"I think if we apply it correctly, it's just part of our story," Bennett said. "You have to hug it. That will not change, but once we've talked about how we react and how we handle it, we equip ourselves, maybe we empower ourselves to go to a place where we did not go. "
The impressive result hit guard De'Andre Hunter so much that the proposed NBA lottery returned for another season. Hunter (9.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg) was awarded the sixth man of the year as a novice at ACC, but missed the game against the retrievers with a broken wrist.
The injury occurred during the semi-finals of the ACC tournament when Hunter leaned on his left hand as he fell heavily in the Barclays Center. He played a 71-63 win over North Carolina in the ACC tournament final, but a few days later Bennett revealed that Hunter needed surgery.
According to Bennett, Hunter was completely healed over the summer and had no setbacks since the Cavaliers started practicing at the end of September. Following the completion of the striker of Isaiah Wilkins, the defensive ACC player of the year and Devon Hall, he is expected to be in the starting eleven this season.
"This is a different team this year, and that will be the challenge," Bennett said. "They understand the value and leadership of what Isaiah Wilkins brought, then a man in his fifth year, Devon Hall. We definitely have some core people back, but the rest of the depth is pretty new or young. "
Nevertheless, there is optimism in Charlottesville, partly due to recent developments in one of these newcomers, Braxton Key. Alabama's transfer received a waiver at the end of last month granting instant approval to the 8ft 8 Guard.
Key was admitted to the pure SEC freshman team, but started only 17 of 26 games last season due to a knee injury.
It is unclear whether Key will be racing for Virginia as Mamadi Diakite (6-9) was one of the first players last season. But Key poses a bigger threat from the three-point area after making Crimson Tide 48 over two seasons.
"He has a really good feeling for the game, which I knew in high school, but somehow it surprised me that it got better," Guy told Key. "He can happen. He's a really good offensive rebounder, and as I said, if he really buys himself, he can be a nightmare in defense. "
The Cavaliers led the country last season in defense, scoring 54 points per game for the second-best mark in school history. They were the first in kenpom.com. They also allowed 53.1 points per game in the conference, the third-best mark in the ACC history.
On the way to a school record for one-season victories, Virginia held a dozen opponents with less than 50 points and 25 to less than 43 percent shooting. Six opponents had more sales against the Cavaliers than scored goals.
But the lasting memory of last season, at least in the national college basketball scene, includes countless defensive defenses against UMBC, which, thanks to 54 percent, scored more opponents than any other Cavaliers opponent, including 12 for 24 out of the bow.
"I know people will always say it," Bennett said. "I know that's part of it, but that's okay. It's really. I still love the game. I still have joy. I still can not wait to train the boys, and that's a great truth.
"That almost frees you when something you desire would not have happened and you are still fine. Not that it was easy, but it frees you to pursue it better, and I think our boys understand that. "