Is Virginia basketball technically a hero?

One night, a tragic event occurs to someone. They want to seek redemption. They train to prepare for any challenge that gets in their way. They want nothing more than to complete their goal. Is this about Batman or Virginia basketball? Tough question to answer? That’s because they are basically the same.

“We all have a hero in our heart.” 

Dwight Schrute, The Office, Season 1 Episode 2

Virginia basketball became a hero after winning their first national championship. Not the typical hero you’re familiar with, I understand. Luke Skywalker. Harry Potter. Jon Snow. These are the types of heroes we know and love. We’ve seen them in movies, read about them in books, and listened to hours of podcasts analyzing them.1No? Just me?

BUT, if we are super loose with the definition of a hero, Virginia basketball is basically a hero too. They are a hero in the same way I can say I’m a basketball player. Sure, you’ve got your MJs and LeBrons and Larry Birds who are truly amazing basketball players. They exist at one end of the basketball player spectrum. Then you’ve got me, a person that has technically played basketball and could technically still play basketball. I happen to exist on the opposite end of that basketball player spectrum, but on the same spectrum.2Hanging on by a thread, at best. While MJ and I are both capable of playing basketball, one happens to fit the definition of basketball player a little more traditionally than I do.3I’ve always wanted to compare myself to MJ.

This line of thinking is what allows Virginia basketball to be considered a hero. They might live at a vastly different point on the spectrum than the heroes I’ve mentioned above, but again, still on the spectrum.

Let’s dive into what a hero is and what makes them a hero to help explain how Virginia basketball fits the mold.


Now, to be clear, we aren’t working with the dictionary definition of a hero. We are talking purely fictional characters that are considered to be heroes. That’s why I used the people I mentioned above. When I talk about actual real heroes, Virginia basketball is not on the level. But, when it comes to fictional heroes, I can be a lot more liberal with the definition of a hero and make this comparison.

I’ll use the traditional hero’s journey as the basis for how a hero is defined. The hero’s journey says that a hero goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.4Thanks Wikipedia. Here’s what the hero’s journey essentially looks like:

There are a bunch of steps to the hero’s journey.517 give or take, depending on who’s philosophy you ship. We’ll focus on the most traditional one, Joseph Campbell’s. This is the one that has 17 steps. It’s pretty flexible though, so it’s not completely necessary to complete all 17 steps. These are the main aspects of the journey:

1. Departure (Separation)

2. Initiation

3. Return

Let’s talk about how each step applies to Virginia basketball.

Departure (Separation)

A. Call to Adventure

This is the start of the journey. Some call occurs to inspire action by the hero.

This occurs when Ralph Sampson joins the team in 1979. A transcendent basketball player at the time, he carried Virginia to their first Final Four in school history in 1981. It was their first taste of what lies beyond mediocracy and made them realize they had a real shot at winning a title.

B. Meeting the Mentor

Provides the hero with guidance to complete their journey.

Flash forward to 2009 and the hiring of coach Tony Bennett. He had won coach of the year 2 years earlier and believed he had the system to bring Virginia its first national championship. He just had to recruit the right players and get them to buy into his philosophy.

C. Crossing the First Threshold

Leaving the comfort of the known and entering the unknown.

Virginia started to establish itself as a force, capable of competing with the traditional blue bloods. They were starting to be seen as a true power, on the same level as your Dukes, North Carolinas, and Kentuckys.6Although, without a championship. They were really more of a freshman that thought they were cool enough to hang with the seniors. In 2014, they won a regular season and conference tournament championship and were consistently finding itself near the top of national rankings.

Initiation

A. The Road of Trials

A series of tests in order to transform.

Despite their continued regular season success, they weren’t able to breakthrough in the NCAA tourney. Getting to the Sweet 16 in 2014 and the Elite 8 in 2016. They also experienced some disappointing early round exits, unable to make it back to the Final Four.

In 2018, Virginia seemed poised to turn their luck around. They earned the #1 overall seed in the tournament, won their conference tournament, and were the heavy favorites to bring home the title. Up to this point, a #1 seed had never lost to a #16 seed. Virginia was facing UMBC and after being tied at half time, they ended up losing by 20 points and were completely humiliated. They were now part of the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament.

B. Apotheosis

A greater understanding is achieved and the hero is now ready to complete their journey.

Upon the most embarrassing loss in NCAA history, Virginia was able to reflect and learn from their mistakes. They decided to embrace what had happened against UMBC. Kyle Guy went so far as to change his Twitter profile picture and his phone background to be photos from the loss.7If this were me, I probably would’ve tried to get the Internet turned off so that no one ever knew this happened. Instead, he was basically like Brad Pitt in Fight Club getting punched in the face and laughing about it. They were ready to move on.

This is the image Kyle Guy used for his Twitter profile.

C. The Ultimate Boon

The achievement of the goal of the quest.

The very next year, Virginia returned to the NCAA tourney as a #1 seed after another very successful regular season that included another regular season conference championship. Despite their success, no one forgot what had happened the year before. The jokes, memes, and analysis (and any highlight video) made Virginia the punchline. 

After another scare in the first round against #16 seed Gardner-Webb (they were down 16 points in the first half), they were able to survive and advance. With a little bit of luck,8Or a lot of bit of luck. they continued their winning ways, making it to the Final Four for the first time since 1984. There, they completed their redemption, winning their first national championship over Texas Tech.

Return

A. Crossing of the Return Threshold

Retain, integrate, and share the wisdom gained with others.

They were no longer the butt of jokes. They had entered hallowed ground as a national champion and had proved that they were capable of competing and winning. They provided future teams with the blueprint of how to overcome horrible losses and accomplish your goals.

B. Freedom to Live

To live in the moment, neither anticipating the future or fearing the past.

They were able to accomplish their goal of winning a national championship, no longer fearing their humiliation against UMBC and the rest of their demons from previous tournaments. They showed they belonged.


TLDR;9Oh yeah, this is supposed to go at the beginning. Virginia basketball spent years training, practicing, and getting better. They began to see success, before facing many tough defeats, none bigger than losing to a #16 seed. They rose from this defeat and returned to defeat their opponents and win their first national championship.

Virginia completed their hero’s journey. It’s an incredible story of overcoming great failure and how that can lead you to the ultimate success. In order for Virginia to complete its journey, it had to experience the worst loss in college basketball history. Without that lesson, they may have never been able to reach their ultimate goal.

Move over Avengers, here’s Hollywood’s next big hit at the box office.