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Back to where it college hoops ended: Picking up where the 2020 ACC Tournament left off

chris graham scott german
Scott German and Chris Graham courtside at the 2020 ACC Tournament.

A year ago, give or take, Scott German and I drove to the Greensboro Coliseum for a basketball game that never happened.

We did see Florida State and Clemson go through pregame warmups in a surreal scene – no fans, aside from a couple of hundred friends and family, though there were bands and cheerleaders.

The arena was still pumped full of loud music, videos played on the big screens.

Memory tells me the countdown clock was in the vicinity of 10 minutes to tip when it stopped, and long-time ACC Commissioner John Swofford broke the news to us.

Scott and I joined colleague Jerry Ratcliffe at a local favorite restaurant, Pastabilities, which I’m happy to say I just Googled, and is still in business.

We chatted with the owner for a good 20 minutes, and she wasn’t so sure – and that’s when we thought things might be uncertain for two or three weeks.

We’re now in Week 53.

The good news: the ACC Tournament is back.

In the area of the personal, I’m not back in Greensboro to see it play out.

Didn’t make the cut for the limited press access.

Which, fine.

It’s hell enough sitting courtside for one game with a mask on when you have asthma.

Fourteen games in five days might cut my life span short about 40 years.

I’m like most of you, watching from home.

Just thankful that we can finish what we started.

“This is where we went, and I look, well, we’re going to go and practice. That’s where the word came where, boom, it all got shut down. So that is sobering, or surreal, in a way. Here you are, 365 days or, I don’t know to the day what it is, but yeah, it is a perspective check.”

That’s Tony Bennett, the UVA coach, whose team was in the gym at UNC-Greensboro getting ready for its quarterfinal matchup with Notre Dame on the Thursday that the 2020 ACC Tournament was shut down.

To get his players’ minds away from the realization that what they’d been working toward for six months had come to a sudden end, he organized a quick game of knockout, which came down to sharpshooters Tomas Woldetensae and Sam Hauser.

Hauser, this week voted first-team All-ACC, won, the team got on the bus, headed up 29 to Charlottesville, then dispersed with the winds.

The 2019-2020 ‘Hoos had won 11 of their final 12 to bounce back from a 12-6 start that had some musing aloud that the defending champs wouldn’t even get an NCAA Tournament bid to finish second in the ACC.

This Virginia team heads back to Greensboro the 2021 ACC regular-season champs after bouncing back from a three-game losing streak that almost knocked the Cavaliers out of the AP Top 25.

“To have played as many games, for us to be able to experience what we did, even the way it ended for us in the regular season, I’m very grateful. It was ecstatic winning in the regular season, in the locker room, all the celebration, but then you’re filled with gratefulness,” Bennett said.

Jay Huff, a native of nearby Durham – there I go, my mind has me thinking I’m writing this in Greensboro, not from the home office in Virginia – also used that word, grateful, to describe his thoughts on the chance to return to Greensboro, where he was able to take in some ACC Tournament games as a young fan.

“Last year was disappointing, mainly just because it was finally going to be back in Greensboro, which is where, at least, I grew up going to the ACC Tournament,” Huff said. “That’s where it had been historically for a long time. So, there’s a lot of history there. I think that, probably the city of Greensboro was disappointed. For me I think that adds a certain level of excitement, but at the same time, you know, we prepare the same way we always do.”

Which is to say, to win.

This program, after all, is still the reigning, defending champ.

We’re a few weeks away from having a new reigning, defending champ for the first time since the ‘Hoos cut down the nets in Minneapolis in 2019.

That’s all starting to feel real now that we’re to this point of having the ACC Tournament tip off.

“It’s the year where I honestly wasn’t sure if we were going to have college basketball, so the fact that we’ve been able to make it this far, to have an ACC Tournament, have an NCAA Tournament, it’s great for me,” Huff said.

“Honestly, this season was kind of just the cherry on top, because I was nervous, we wouldn’t have it, so I’m glad that we’ve been able to make it this far,” Huff said.

Yes, we’ve come a long way, but, OK, all we’ve really done is get back to where things ended a year ago.

A lot of hard work from players, coaches, managers, training and medical staff, has gone into getting to this point.

Time to see it through.

“There’s a feeling of gratefulness for what just transpired with the season, all that took place, all the ups and downs, and the people that had to come together to do it. A lot of controversy, should we be playing, when, how, but here we are. We’ve made it through a regular season, and now it’s in the postseason, and hopefully we’ll continue on,” Bennett said.

Story by Chris Graham

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