Sport - NCAA
Tragedy bonds and adds perspective to UVA season
March 8th, 7:49 PM EST
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Well before the celebration of an ACC regular season championship, a week into Virginia's season the team and a community were thrust into tragedy.
"Day of tremendous sadness," UVA men's basketball coach Tony Bennett said, "A time, not a day, of tremendous sadness and mourning and perspective that I think it brought that only a tragedy like that only can."
The morning Charlottesville and the University of Virginia was coming to grips with the tragic shooting deaths of football players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D'Sean Perry, the men's basketball was supposed to host Northern Iowa. Any game quickly became unimportant, as players like Chase Coleman mourned the loss of fellow student-athletes he knew well.
"Yes I let my tears out, yes I felt the pain," Coleman said, "But I got past it, I think I've gotten past it now and I just continue to try to help people that haven't that are still grieving."
As the UVA community mourned the tragic deaths of Chandler, Davis Jr. and Perry, the men's basketball team went to Las Vegas in perhaps one of the most impactful moments of their season.
"In a way it made us closer because that could have easily been one of us on our sports team. Kind of brought us together as a team and closer as brothers," senior guard Armaan Franklin said, "We do a lot of stuff together, we're around each other a lot, so I couldn't imagine what they went through. But just being able to band together and play for them and play for the whole UVA community when they needed it."
Players took the court wearing shirts with the names of each player tragically lost, while winning games against Baylor and Illinois in some of the first athletic events after the shooting.
"It's always going to be there," junior guard Reece Beekman said, "That's something that started our season and we kind of just play for them the whole season and just carry this whole way."
Throughout the season Bennett catches himself thinking about the numbers patched on his shirt and the people they represent.
"It's a profession and it's become business like in so many ways, but I think sometimes we get it out of whack. I think our society has gotten sports out of whack in many things," Bennett said, "And then when something like that happens, you understand this is about what I believe in terms of my faith, what I believe in terms of my relationship with my family and my friends and the gift that you have of being here, of playing this sport, but really each day."
Time is still healing many at UVA, while players like Beekman and Coleman reach out to friends on the football team to support them.
"It's tough to talk about now still to this day," Coleman said, "I'm glad that it gave people a reason to care a lot more and understand the situations that we're in are tough and that we just need to become a lot closer and more grateful for the things that we have and make a better future for the ones that are coming behind us."
UVA Strong is seen across Charlottesville and different sports, bonding more than just a team.
"We don't go through anything alone, guys were closer to those guys than some," senior guard Kihei Clark said, "But we're all a part of the UVA community and we have each other's backs through everything."
Those shirts and patches bearing the numbers and names of those lost have added perspective and purpose to the Cavaliers season far beyond wins.
"Those shirts are real and I think often of those young men, a lot," Bennett said, "Of course we were a layer removed from it and I still think of course their families and those football guys and that staff, but they'll honor their legacy for sure."