Special moment for UVA student managers late in win over JMU

uva basketballGrant Kersey averaged eight points a game as a senior at Albemarle. Matt Palumbo averaged 13 points per game as a senior at St. Anne’s-Belfield.

Both are now student managers for the UVA Basketball program.

It’s far from being a glorious job.

This past spring, for instance, I’m walking into the late afternoon after the ‘Hoos had rallied to knock off Gardner-Webb in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

The first win of the six that would bring the Virginia program its first national title.

It’s hard to write a story this season without mentioning that national title.

Ahem. Kersey had played in 10 games, scoring 13 points, not missing a shot in game action, including draining a pair of threes, most memorably a buzzer-beating three that got UVA to the 100-point mark in Tony Bennett’s 300th career win.

But when you’re a student manager who gets to suit up for home games and get minutes in garbage time of blowouts, well, the first part of that description is student manager.

I’m walking out of the back of Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C., past the UVA team bus, and Kersey is out there loading equipment.

Because that’s what student managers do.

Grunt work.

Also what student managers do: when the team is short a couple of guys in a November home game, they run to the locker room late in the game to put on their uniforms.

Virginia only dressed 11 players for its home tilt with JMU Sunday night, with starting guard Tomas Woldetensae in a walking boot, and reserve center Francisco Caffaro still recovering from a training-camp injury.

As the Cavaliers took control in the second half, pushing the margin past 20 points, there was a need to get the starters and rotation regulars off the court, but a lack of warm bodies to be able to do so.

Bennett had directed Ronnie Wideman, who is responsible for submitting the names of players active for a game to the official scorer, to include Kersey and Palumbo on the list.

It was a surprise to Palumbo when Bennett sent the two to the back to get changed from their dress clothes to their UVA uniforms.

“I said to Ronnie, because we’re short-manned, let’s have them run in there and get their jerseys on. They said his eyes were as big as they could be,” Bennett said.

Both checked in with 1:54 to go, subbing in for reserve Justin McKoy and starting guard Casey Morsell.

Palumbo was able to get a shot off on Virginia’s next possession, a long three from the right wing with 1:33 left that was well off target. So off target, it turned out, that the ball ended up in Kersey’s hands underneath the basket.

Kersey made the easy layup.

He’s now 4-for-4 from the floor as a collegian.

The crowd went bonkers, another nice moment for Kersey, and for Palumbo, who recorded his first career college appearance.

When the team got back to the locker room, Kersey’s and Palumbo’s clothes were strewn about, something Bennett and some of the players gave them some fun grief over.

Bennett was all smiles talking about Palumbo’s first chance to suit up a little later.

“To be able to reward him, I talk about the true servants in our program, those that serve others well.  That was awesome. I could see it in his eyes, his family, the same thing with Grant. I just love that,” Bennett said.

“That will be one of my favorite moments of my time here, to be honest,” Bennett said.

Story by Chris Graham

UVA Basketball Fans!

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