Losing to Michigan State in the Sweet 16 wasn't exactly a storybook ending to the careers of UVa senior Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, but the 61-59 loss to the Spartans is only a small part of the legacy the two seniors will leave behind.
Four years after joining the Cavaliers, Harris and Mitchell were the only two remaining members of a six-man recruiting class that was Tony Bennett's first at UVa,
"We never lost faith in what Coach Bennett was trying to do," Harris said Friday after the loss to Michigan State. "We never lost faith in each other. We believed in one another."
"They stayed and they have benefited from that and turned this program around and really made history," said sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon. "I think they've done a phenomenal job, and they will be remembered."
Mitchell and Harris will be remembered for more than just the fact that they stayed. The two 'Hoos helped turn around a program that won just 15 games in the season before they arrived. In their final season, UVa tied a school record with 30 total wins and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"When we got here, it was all about turning the program around, just trying to win as much as possible," Mitchell said. "Just having this group of guys in this locker room, to have such a high ceiling and to end the season in the way that we did is special. It's something you can never take away from us."
Over the course of their careers, the two started a combined 215 games for UVa. Harris averaged more than 12 points per game in his four years, while Mitchell put up more than six points and six rebounds per game. But their teammates say their impact goes beyond numbers.
"They've given up so much for this team," said sophomore forward Anthony Gill. "Without them we wouldn't be where we are. Joey and Akil taking a backseat their senior year in order for us to win, it speaks a lot on their character and who they are as people."
"They have embodied the pillars, they have embodied so many great, so many positive things," added sophomore guard Justin Anderson. "We just want to continue to play hard, and hopefully next season play just as hard and try to get back here for those guys."
"What they're about is good," head coach Tony Bennett said of the two seniors. "I'm thankful that for four years I got to be a part of watching them grow from boys to men and turn our program around. And I always tell them 'A desire accomplished is sweet to the soul,' and they left a legacy that they won't forget.
"It stings now and it's empty, and it's a team you don't want the season to end because you don't want to stop coaching them," Bennett added. "But I thank God for the opportunity to work with these guys, and they should hold their heads high, and they are what's right about the game of college basketball."
Losing in the Sweet 16 on Friday at Madison Square Garden ended Harris and Mitchell's careers sooner than they hoped for, but they leave UVa after one of the best seasons in program history, confident in where the team is headed.
"The ACC regular season championship and the tournament championship, they're going to leave a mark on Virginia basketball," Harris said. "We kind of leave a legacy behind and it's something really special to be a part of."