Local players anchor UVA's 'Green Machine'

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Chris McGahren led the Western Albemarle High School boys basketball team to its first-ever state title game appearance a season ago. But now a first-year at Virginia, McGahren has traded in his game jersey to become a manager with the UVA men's basketball program.

"I've watched guys like Maleek Frazier and some of the other walk-ons and managers, Green Machine guys before me and before us," said McGahren, a VHSL first-team all-state selection in Class 3 as a Western senior last year. "And being able to be a part of it is really special."

Under head coach Tony Bennett and his staff, UVA has developed a history of adding players with local connections to its "Green Machine" practice team. Frazier played at then Covenant School and originally joined the program as a manager before being added to the roster as a walk-on for his final two UVA seasons. Thomas Rogers (Fork Union), Caid Kirven (Woodberry Forest) and Jeff Jones (St. Anne's-Belfield) also played at UVA as walk-ons after attending Central Virginia schools.

Between walk-ons and managers, this year's "Green Machine" is loaded with local flavor, led by third-year Grant Kersey. After spending his first two UVA seasons as a manager, the Albemarle High School grad learned on the eve of this year's opener that he'd be in uniform for home games -- and has already played in four games, and appeared on ESPN SportsCenter's "Top 10 Plays."

"A lot of local kids, which is awesome," Kersey said of UVA's practice squad. "Just because I know we all grew up coming to games, watching UVA games and just idolizing the program."

"It's pretty cool," said sophomore forward Austin Katstra, a walk-on who played with Kersey at AHS. "We grew up playing together, so that's definitely a fun experience now."

Katstra was a three-time all-state selection at AHS, and graduated in 2017 as the school's all-time scorer and rebounder. He and Kersey helped the Patriots reach the VHSL state semifinals for the first time in school history in 2016.

That same year, Jayden Nixon and Matt Palumbo were teammates on the STAB team that reached the VISAA state semifinals. Now Nixon is a freshman walk-on guard with the Wahoos, while Palumbo is in his second year as a manager with the program.

"I knew Grant well. I knew Jayden and Austin a little better because we played AAU together," Palumbo recalled. "And then Chris, we played a year of AAU together as well."

"I've been playing with Grant, Matt, Chris. I've been playing with and against those guys since I've been a little kid," said Nixon. "So being able to play with them with the UVA basketball team has been a dream."

Now that group has teamed up in UVA practices, where there are times when the Wahoos are matched up against all five local guys.

"They go so hard," said junior guard Kyle Guy. "Sometimes it gets annoying because we're trying to go like 75 percent, but they don't let us do that. And that's ultimately good for us."

"We take a lot of pride in it," McGahren said of the practice squad's effort in practice. "Just doing our best to challenge the guys on the team however we can. Sometimes it's not much. They're one of the best teams in the country."

"Oh, I love being on Green Team," said Palumbo. "I take pride in just simply trying to get our guys better. Like, I don't care about scoring or anything. It's just running what the other team runs, and just trying to prepare them as best we can. It's kind of an honor to even be here."

Those local players also take pride in representing Central Virginia as part of one of the top college basketball programs in the country.

"Any kid growing up that really loves basketball in this area is going to look up to UVA's program. That's what I did, and that's what a lot of these guys have done," Palumbo said. "Every day I look around at the arena and I think, I hope I don't ever take this for granted, because it's an incredible experience."

"I know a bunch of high school kids come to the games and watch the games," said Kersey. "And then to see kids from this area come to a big program like this, and see how hard work can get you far. No matter what, you can always impact a program and if you're there to serve, there will be a spot for you just to help out, and create opportunities from there."

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