Bruce Hornsby: UVA Basketball’s University Hall good-luck charm

Bruce Hornsby was the only interview for Mad About U: Four Decades of Basketball at University Hall that made me nervous.

I remember him indicating to me in his email response to my request for an interview that it seemed to be coming out of left field to want to talk with him for the book.

It seemed obvious to me. He had become known, over the years, as a bit of a good-luck charm for UVA basketball.

That was my excuse, anyway.

“I played basketball in high school – had an offer to play at Randolph-Macon when they were (Division II). But by my junior year, senior year in high school, I got more and more interested in the piano, so I let the basketball go. I had two roads to choose, and chose the correct one,” said Hornsby, an internationally renowned musician and singer who became a fan of Virginia basketball, as he said, “when a lot of people did, in the early ’80s during the Sampson era.”

A 1988 tour of the Commonwealth included a stop at University Hall.

“After the show, Terry Holland came by,” Hornsby said. “He was at the show. He was the basketball coach then, and he and his daughters had come to the show. Coach started talking to me then about doing something for the program.”

The two became fast friends – and in 1989, Holland called on Hornsby to serve as a celebrity coach for the program’s annual Blue-Orange game.

“John Havlicek’s son, Chris, played for the team then, so they got Havlicek to be one coach, and I was the other coach,” said Hornsby, who challenged the Boston Celtics great to a game of H-O-R-S-E at halftime of the game.

“He beat me H-O-R-S-E to H-O-R. Of course, he was cheating his ass off on some of the shots. He wouldn’t shoot double-clutches. He would just shoot it from the spot. That’s my whining version of it, anyway,” Hornsby said.

Hornsby coached in the Blue-Orange game several times thereafter. The most memorable was the 1990 game that featured actor Woody Harrelson on the opposing sideline.

“We played one-on-one at halftime, and I waxed his hind parts – 11-2. Coming straight over from a Grateful Dead tour in Europe. I took the red-eye back from London after we played Wembley Stadium the night before with the Dead and played Woody at halftime,” Hornsby said.

It was around this time that Hornsby began to get a reputation among the UVa. faithful of being a good-luck charm.

“This says a lot about the hilarious and inane superstitions of sports people. For a while, it was considered in UVa. athletic-department circles that I was good luck. Because every time I’d come to a game, they would win. Of course, they didn’t think that, you know, we’re just good. We win a lot,” Hornsby said.

“It culminated, hilariously, in going to the ACC tournament down in the Charlotte Coliseum, and when I got there – and I went with my sons – and I walk in and take my seat, and about eight people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, thank God you’re here.’ And I thought, ‘You people need to shake yourselves,’ ” Hornsby said.

“This all started at U Hall games. Those were the games that I would go to that they would always win,” Hornsby said.

Story by Chris Graham

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.


The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
 
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