The Virginia men's basketball team is preparing for their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1995, when they meet Michigan State Friday night at Madison Square Garden. For the Cavalier players, this will mark their first trip to the round of 16, but for two UVa assistants, this marks their return.
Assistant coach Jason Williford and strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis were both members of the UVa team that made it to the Elite 8 in 1995. Williford was a senior while Curtis was a freshman, but both coaches remember that journey nearly two decades later.
"Just every round being tougher," Williford says about what he remembers most clearly. "We barely got out of that round of 32. We actually went to overtime that year, and then to get to Kemper [Arena] to play against Kansas. It's funny how I remember all of this stuff, it's coming back."
"That's probably what I remember most is just that journey, and then getting to that place and having an opportunity to compete and play for an Elite 8 appearance and everything else," adds Curtis.
Curtis says he has told the current Cavalier squad only a little about his time in the tournament.
"Most of what I have referenced is just the process," he says. "This is their journey, their process, but I want them to respect it along the way."
This season marks the first trip back to the Sweet 16 for both Curtis and Williford in their coaching careers, which is one reason both coaches have been encouraging the 'Hoos to soak in and appreciate their experience in New York City.
"Enjoy it, live in the moment," Williford has told the players. "It's not promised, it doesn't always happen. I've been coaching for a long time and it's taken to this point to even get to the Sweet 16."
"At the end of the day, you may never have an opportunity to get back to this point," Curtis said. "Understand this is the basketball mecca of the world. Soak it all in, process it, and then go out and play as hard as you can so we can get another game here."