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Virginia men’s basketball players, managers share special bond

Virginia men’s basketball players, managers share special bond

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Virginia seniors (from left) Grant Kersey, Braxton Key and Mamadi Diakite are honored prior to the last home game of the season at John Paul Jones Arena. Kersey was a team manager for the Cavaliers who played in several games.

The life of a basketball manager isn’t glamorous.

Virginia men’s basketball managers frequently perform tasks that aren’t appreciated by the public. Whether it’s giving players towels and water during games, helping coaches with work during the week or serving on the scout team in practice, managers often shine in the shadows.

While fans might not see managers much — except for when some of them take the court occasionally at the end of blowout victories — the players and coaches appreciate the effort of the unsung contributors.

One way the players show appreciation is by attending manager games. The night or two before a game, managers from each school play against each other. Usually the games take place around 9 or 9:30 p.m. UVa players still made time to watch the managers.

“This was the best turnout for players on the UVa team at our manager games,” David Gent, a senior manager, said.

Point guard Kihei Clark was a common visitor, according to Gent. UVa’s point guard showed support in an amusing way.

“What stuck out the most this year was that Kihei would just talk the entire time to the other team,” Gent said. “I mean, he just ran his mouth the entire time.”

Unfortunately for UVa, this often backfired. Gent said opposing teams would relish Clark’s constant trash talk and individual players wound up scoring 30 points in some games against the Cavaliers.

While the trash talk didn’t work, Gent and the managers appreciated that Division I players — many of whom won a national title the year prior — were willing to take the time to watch the managers compete. It created a special atmosphere, since the arena wasn’t open to the public and it’s an intimate setting for the games.

“That made it a lot more special,” Gent said. “Obviously, we’re at the players’ games, and the players come out at like 9:30 at night to watch us play, reminisce about our high school varsity basketball days.”

Jay Huff, a redshirt junior who attended a bunch of manager games in his second season at UVa, went sparingly this season but wished he had time to attend more games. He praised the managers as players.

Huff and the Cavaliers are familiar with the playing ability of the managers, who frequently compete against them in practice. Many of the managers were impact players in high school.

“It’s really cool watching them play because we play against them in practice, and sometimes they’ll kick our butt or they’ll do stuff that is really impressive,” Huff said.

Both managers and players were thrilled about the opportunity of returning to the NCAA Tournament. Virginia ended the season on an eight-game winning streak, and it surged to second in the ACC standings ahead of the ACC Tournament. The Cavaliers ended the season as one of the hottest teams in college hoops.

Unfortunately for UVa, its season ended before playing a game in the ACC Tournament.

“Honestly, this year might be the closest that I’ve seen the guys on the team and the managers,” said Gent. “We would hang out together on and off the court, so it just really stunk that it ended that way because something about the energy felt really good.”

To make the final moments of the season better, UVa head coach Tony Bennett gathered players, managers and coaches to play a game of knockout. On the way back from Greensboro, North Carolina, the group stopped for ice cream.

The final memory was a good one and one that included everyone. For those who were at UVa the year prior, the final memory of the 2018-19 season lives with them forever.

Grant Kersey played 19 minutes during his UVa career and never missed a shot, but he spent most of his team working within the program as a manager. UVa’s national championship victory is a moment he won’t soon forget.

“That’s the thing, being around this program, everybody is equal,” Kersey said. “You have a bond with every coach. You have a bond with every guy, on and off the court, so just to be able to do it with them and do it with the guys who we have worked hard with that whole year just felt so good.”

The bond between players and managers goes beyond the court.

Kersey welcomed Tomas Woldetensae into his family’s home in the Charlottesville area once the season ended and Woldetensae wasn’t able to make it back to Italy due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Kersey and Woldetensae live in the same apartment and as the news of the season ending started to unfold, Kersey knew he’d extend the offer for Woldetensae to stay with him.

“It wasn’t even really a question,” Kersey said. “We’re like, ‘Oh you want to come to my house? Yeah, sure.’ I didn’t even really have to ask. We’re just kind of on the same page because I’ve gotten really close to him this past year. We both knew my parents wouldn’t care. It’s a blessing in disguise.”

While the situation is far from ideal, Kersey says there are benefits. The duo put together a few funny videos for social media of them acting out old NBA All-Star game festivities in Kersey’s driveway.

Kersey handles the editing, while Woldetensae and his “artistic eye” take care of most of the filming.

While the two brainstorm ideas for future videos, they enjoy the time spent together as well as Woldetensae’s cooking. When they’re at their apartment during normal circumstances, Kersey serves as the driver for Woldetensae to pick up ingredients to make dinner for the house. Woldetensae’s go-to dish is lasagna.

“He’s a great chef too, but he doesn’t have a car,” Kersey said. “I have a car, so I drive him to the store, and he’ll cook the food. It’s kind of a good balance. He’s a great roommate, great kid. I’m glad he lived with us, and I’m definitely glad we got close over this past year.”

Living with Woldetensae gives both Kersey and Woldetensae someone to spend time with during the global pandemic. Whether it’s making videos or lasagna, the two have things to think about outside of the spread of the virus.

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