I missed Pete Gillen: I really did

pete gillen tiki barberI didn’t realize until today how much I had missed former UVA basketball coach Pete Gillen. Not for what he did for UVA basketball, mind you. God love Pete, it was his turn, and he did his best, taking the ‘Hoos to one NCAA Tournament appearance, in 2001, losing in the first round to Gonzaga.

Gillen was able to get our hopes up, was his best accomplishment, recruiting like a madman, and entertaining us 24/7.

That was the part of Pete Gillen on display Monday, as he sat in as a guest co-host on UVA alum Tiki Barber’s radio show today.

Gillen will apparently sit in with Tiki a couple more times this week, which is suddenly appointment viewing for at least me, watching the simulcast on the CBS Sports Network, weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m.

Barber, for the most part, on the show, when he co-hosts with Brandon Tierney, tamps down the Wa-hoo-wa part of his personality, but his UVA side was on full display on Monday.

Tiki and Pete had a long discussion of what Gillen thinks of the job that Tony Bennett has been able to do with UVA basketball, starting with an observation from Tiki that he had never thought UVA hoops could get to the heights that CTB has taken the program, which, yeah, Coach Gillen, ouch, dude.

Gillen agreed, and talked about Bennett inviting him in to observe practice sessions, and how impressed he is with the ship that CTB runs, and how he has been able to do a bangup job winning ACC titles without having access to Top 25 talents.

Then we got a tidbit from Barber about how UVA football coaching legend George Welsh used to let his hair down doing the polka, which, visual, George Welsh doing the polka, I’m upset that we didn’t have social media back when this was happening, because, damn.

Gillen chimed in with a story about going out on the town with Welsh, and I’m sad that I wasn’t at the bar when this one was going on, considering where it went.

Pete had some bad breaks, no doubt, during his tenure. Majestic Mapp was a McDonald’s All-American, but he never played up to potential after suffering an injury as a first-year.

When I interviewed Gillen for a book on the history of UVA basketball, Mad About U: Four Decades of Basketball at University Hall, he didn’t focus on the Mapp injury, but rather the plantar fasciitis that put Adam Hall on the shelf in 2002, which played a key role in turning a UVA season that had seen the ‘Hoos get ranked as high as fourth in the AP poll fall all the way to an NIT first-round exit, and set Gillen squarely on the hot seat.

From there, the writing was on the wall, and Gillen’s glib humor seemed to ring hollow with the Ls accumulating.

We sent him on his merry way in 2005, then had to endure the Dave Leitao fiasco before lucking into Tony Bennett.

Gillen has been little more than a footnote in UVA sports history since.

At least for me, for a few hours on the radio, it was like old times with Pete after games.

Column by Chris Graham


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