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Virginia Men's Basketball

Where I’m Going Next by Grant Kersey

I never expected my time as a manager for the UVA basketball program to play out in the way it did, and I really couldn’t have asked for a better four years. I’ll always cherish the opportunity to be a part of the roller coaster ride of ups and downs that our program experienced.

Back when I was just a seven-year-old ball boy with big dreams, I never imagined I’d one day be a student manager for my favorite team. I loved those game days when my parents would drop me off at the JPJ entrance. I was in awe of this program, even back then. Basketball has always been a part of my life; my grandfather was a NBA referee and my uncle was one for college basketball. In fact, he used to pour water on the floor during timeouts back when I was a ball boy, just to make sure I was doing my job.

Growing up, I always made my parents stay to the end of every single game so I could see the walk-ons get their moment in the spotlight. A favorite memory was in 2014 when UVA clinched the ACC Regular Season title. What sticks out to me from that night is the moment Thomas Rogers hit the three from the wing. He made the most of his opportunity and came in off the bench, cold, to hit that shot.

I’ll always cherish the opportunity to be a part of the roller coaster ride of ups and downs that our program experienced.

As a kid, I also loved watching the pre-game handshakes the guys would do as the starting lineup was announced. Ty helped turn that childhood appreciation into a reality for me. I never dreamed I’d be the guy at the end of the line, but since I already had handshakes with most of the guys on the team, Ty suggested I do them before the game. It was surreal, but they became part of our ritual.

We also had some great superstitions we went through on game days. From Kyle having me hold his jersey until warm-ups were completed in my second year, to Austin needing to put his right shoe on and then his left one – never the other way around – we each had our own routine. One of the more obvious ones was how we’d keep the same order and position when going through warm-ups. We also kept the same positions during the National Anthem. I was between Braxton and Austin every game. During my senior year, when I wasn’t dressed, Braxton and Austin made sure to leave a space between them.

Of course, we had some amusing mishaps as well. There were times where guys forgot something they needed for the game. But there were also instances when something happened to the managers as well. Like the time at Mohegan Sun when we ended up tipping over the cooler and spilling ice and drinks across the entire lobby. That’s on us.

Through all of this, I’ve learned numerous valuable lessons. Of course, no matter where I go or what I do in life, Coach Bennett’s five pillars of humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness will always be part of me. What I’ve learned on and off the court as a part of the Virginia basketball program are integral to who I am today. It was an honor to be a part of this program. 

Lessons

First off, in any sort of team or group environment, everyone plays a critical role and contributes to the success of the group. For our team, everyone, from managers to trainers to coaches to doctors to players, played a vital role in what we were accomplishing as a team. 

Next, the value of hard work cannot be understated. In fact, my experience is a true testament of being committed to your passion and how far that dedication and diligence can get you. I never anticipated nor expected the opportunity Coach Bennett gave me. I stand in awe of what a surreal experience this was.

Another lesson I learned from my time as a manager was how to face adversity head-on, and then utilize it to keep moving forward. Coach Bennett’s message after the UMBC game stuck with us throughout the year of our National Championship run, and will stick with me forever:

“If you learn to use it right (the adversity), it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way.” 

Facing adversity was a common theme throughout my time with the program. Losing by 26 to Florida my first year certainly stung, but we responded the following year, winning both the ACC Regular Season and Tournament titles while finishing the regular season at 31-2.

Then, we lost to UMBC. Talk about going from highest of highs one week (ACC Champs) to the lowest of lows the next. We were not only victims of an upset, but the worst upset in college basketball, and quite possibly in all of sports. But, while most teams and programs would have tried to sweep the experience of being the first one seed to lose to a sixteen under the rug, we learned from it and decided to use it to fuel us. I will never forget the feeling that we let down the fans and the community, the criticism was heartbreaking. Rather than hold us back, it added to our story. It definitely added to my character.

A sample of a text I received from a friend after the game

Just as we all dealt with the loss differently, everyone also had their own way of using that game as motivation. For the managers, Justin Maxey changed the name of our group chat to “54-74”; the score of the game. We used this group chat every single day. So, from the start of that next school year when we returned to Grounds, until that glorious night in Minneapolis, we saw the score of the UMBC game. Every. Single. Day. For 389 days. It was a constant reminder of just how we felt when that final buzzer sounded on March 16th, 2018. Of course, come April 9th, 2019, you bet we changed the name to “National Champions”.

As a kid, I would always pick UVA to win my March Madness bracket. I knew it would happen, but I never knew it would happen the way it did. One of the coolest things for me is getting to meet the players, coaches, managers, and fans that I grew up watching. Winning the National Championship in 2019 would not have happened without each and every one of them. They helped build the foundation that our program sits on today.

What followed the next year was unprecedented. The way the team bonded together my last year and hit our stride at the right time of the season was special. We felt we were playing at our best entering postseason play. That’s when the period of unknown hit. Finding out the ACC Tournament was canceled shifted our focus to the NCAA Tournament, which was then canceled while we were on the bus ride back to Charlottesville. 

So, from the start of that next school year when we returned to Grounds, until that glorious night in Minneapolis, we saw the score of the UMBC game. Every. Single. Day. For 389 days.

And just like that, our season and my time with the program was over. We were not going to have the chance to go back to back. Let me be clear, this was the right decision to be made; we have to put the health and safety of ourselves and those around us over sports. That said, it was still hard to accept. However, I believe these events add even more to our story. There could not have been a more unique four-year experience for this program.

What’s Next 

As I now step away from the program, working towards what’s next for me is at the forefront of my mind. Obviously, COVID-19 and the ensuing complications dampened my last semester as an undergraduate student. Some of my plans, like many others across the world, were derailed. Once again, Coach Bennett’s quote came to mind.

“If you learn to use it right (the adversity), it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way.” 

I believe that we can find reasons to be grateful in any situation. Quarantine brought a number of positive experiences. For example, I’m incredibly grateful that I was able to spend more time with my family. And, of course, with Tomas quarantined with us in Charlottesville, we found ways to keep ourselves both busy and entertained.

That said, the state of our nation at this very moment seems to be stuck in a constant state of adversity which is why it is critical that we unite to better the end result. Both in regards to the pandemic and to address the social injustices that are so prevalent in our country. It’s time we come together and make strides to not only face but combat this adversity, ultimately establishing a new norm. It’s our responsibility to do better, to be better.

Now, while I am coming back to UVA for a year of graduate school at the Curry School of Education, I will no longer be a manager for the team. Frankly, I am not ready to be just a fan yet, however, I am confident that this is the right next step for me. I’m excited to explore my other interests, such as marketing and entrepreneurship, but still with a link back to sports. Really, this is my opportunity to take on new opportunities, while also pursuing internships to help me cover some of the expenses of school.

Additionally, I was fortunate enough to hold a basketball camp earlier this summer with ACAC, a local health facility. Following strict guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Return to the Court with Grant Kersey was a great way to provide kids the opportunity to get out of the house, have something positive to look forward to, and get active again on the basketball court. While being socially distant and not sharing equipment, I was able to teach basketball fundamentals through a variety of drills, helping to teach the game while also having fun. I plan on holding another camp soon, and hopefully next summer as well, so be on the lookout for more details. 

Once we are on the other side of COVID-19, I would like to partner with a local youth organization to provide a camp for kids that may not otherwise have the opportunity. Being from Charlottesville, I know how fortunate and grateful I am to have the opportunity to give back to the community that has given me so much. 

I’m incredibly grateful. Especially for my basketball family. Over the last four years, I’ve formed meaningful relationships that I never imagined would be possible when I accepted my UVA admission. It’s been life-altering, and the relationships I’ve built will be with me forever.

To Coach Bennett, Ronnie Wideman, Johnny Carpenter, and the rest of the coaching staff, I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to be a part of this program for the last four years. 

To Ethan Saliba and our team doctors, thank you for putting us first and making sure we were prepared to excel at our highest level.

To Wahoowa nation, thank you for the continuous support on and off the court. UVA will always have the best fans. 

Keep up that Mamba Mentality 

Grant Kersey #1 , 13 , 11

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