Are you a UVA basketball fan? Thank George Welsh

george welshIt’s not that much of a stretch to say that you need to thank George Welsh for that #1-ranked UVA basketball team that you enjoy watching so much.

Here’s my case for that:

What prompted Paul Tudor Jones to initiate the talk about building what became the John Paul Jones Arena was, he was at a UVA football game, right after the renovation of Scott Stadium.

Barry Parkhill told me this story as I was working on the book that I co-wrote with Patrick Hite, Mad About U: Four Decades of Basketball at University Hall. He said Jones asked him, in essence, great, we’ve redone the football stadium, what are we going to do about that dump of a basketball arena that we play in?

One thing led to another – the first thing being, Jones writing the first really, really big check – and we had ourselves a JPJ.

Which is, come on, you’ve been there, it’s an absolute palace.

It attracts recruits, it attracts coaches.

David Teel had this story last year in a profile of Tony Bennett and how he ended up at UVA. On his visit to Grounds, Bennett got a VIP tour of JPJ, and afterward, he called his top assistant at Washington State, Ron Sanchez, who would follow Bennett to UVA before leaving last spring to take the head job at Charlotte.

Sanchez said Bennett told him: “You should see this place.”

Bennett, keep in mind, was the hottest name on the coaching tree back then, actually, as he is now, 10 years later.

He’d already declined an overture at Indiana, to name one.

It took a lot to get him to come East.

I’m not saying it was all JPJ, but JPJ was part of his first impression.

Does Bennett end up at Virginia without JPJ? I’m glad we don’t have a way to know for sure.

Is there a JPJ without George Welsh, then? That’s the premise of this column piece.

I think we can know for sure on this one.

UVA was 68-132-1 in the 19 seasons before Welsh took over in 1982. In the 18 seasons since he left, the program has a record of 101-120.

That’s .400 football, winning-percentage-wise.

You think, if Virginia plays .400 football between 1982 and 2000, and not .608 football, as it did under Welsh (134-86-3), that there’s a push to expand Scott Stadium toward the end of Welsh’s tenure?

If UVA football is still something that the kids dress up for home games to hear the Pep Band snark about the kids from other schools not being as smart, we put a new coat of paint on U Hall, and we’re still waiting for the next Ralph Sampson to decide for some reason to matriculate on Grounds.

And Tony Bennett is getting ready for his first Final Four and national title somewhere else, while we’re hoping to get to 20 wins and .500 in the ACC so we can get off the bubble and get back into the Big Dance, because we’re tired of the damn NIT.

So, for the millionth time, but a first bit of gratitude related to UVA basketball, I hereby say:

Thanks, George.

Column by Chris Graham

 



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