Junious Smith III: A running diary featuring an ecstatic Virginia fan
Bryan Hanks even has a custom license plate to showcase his loyalty to Virginia. Photo by Junious Smith III / Neuse News
This was either going to be a wonderful moment or a train wreck — but I was getting it regardless.
Bryan Hanks is enjoying the greatest season of his life as the Virginia Cavaliers made it to the national championship for the first time. The Hoos faced another college basketball title neophyte in the Texas Tech Red Raiders, so my idea was to steal from my favorite writer of all time — Bill Simmons — and create a bit of a running diary. Imitation is flattery, right?
Let’s go back in time to Monday, April 7.
6:59 p.m.: Well, this one is going to be late in more ways than one — Hanks is the PA guy for the Down East Wood Ducks, but he’ll have the game on DVR. The first pitch has been thrown in this one. It’s weird to watch a game without covering it, but there’s still a solid two hours before I can start following up on basketball (without telling Hanks of course.)
7:04: Sam Lee, a Delmont Miller Press Box employee (whom Bryan refers to over the PA mic as “Eastern North Carolina’s Most Eligible Bachelor), is really playing Hanson’s “Mmmbop” for one of the Pelican batters — who immediately hit a 2-run double. Yeah…
7:05: Justin Bieber’s “Baby”.
7:06: 2-run home run. Bieber Fever I guess.
7:12: Leadoff hitter Eric Jenkins hits a home run for the DEWDs to narrow the gap to 4-1. We may not see the title game until midnight at this rate.
8:12: Bottom of the fourth and the Wood Ducks are up 9-4. For my first time seeing the DEWDs this season, they’re a fun squad to watch, especially with the adjustments they’ve made from that rough start.
8:17: Yohel Pozo cranks a 416-foot, 3-run blast to make it 12-4 for the DEWDs. Bahgawd. I almost don’t care about basketball.
9:01: The Famous Alexa Kay — the DEWD director of promotions — just told Bryan he can leave before the seventh-inning stretch to catch the game. To quote Bryan, he’s “giddy as a schoolgirl.”
9:08: Deuces, and we’ll catch the game with Linda Whittington at the Cavalier Crib without missing a second of action.
9:27: Under-16 media timeout and it's 3-2 Texas Tech. On another note, why do we need so many media timeouts? An additional eight stops on top of five timeouts? Anything to make more money advertisement-wise but these players can't get pa...never mind.
(My solution, seven timeouts for each team, no media stoppages. Carolina games would end in an hour, because Roy Williams.)
9:33: A big slam by Braxton Key to punctuate a 7-0 run and Bryan is barely fazed. The man is nervous, holding Linda's hand in nervousness. I felt the same way two years ago when UNC played Gonzaga.
9:43: Our first confident "Dude" from Bryan as Mamadi Diakite hit a baseline jumper. 15-6 Cavs.
9:47: The under-8 timeout with Virginia now leading 19-16. I asked Bryan if he's alright — he nods, but it's not a confident motion.
9:48: I just got all the way assaulted by a puppy.
10:00: Looking on Twitter, I found out the Wood Ducks won 12-4. This is going to be a fun season and I encourage everyone to hit the ballpark — this isn’t last year’s team and I hope this statement doesn’t bite me later.
10:02: This is the first joke Bryan’s kicked since the start of the game after a basket from Kyle Guy. “He's that dude. No, he's that ‘Guy.’” Definitely groan-worthy, but I was waiting for that.
10:05: This puppy ended up breaking the table after another assault on me. Unbelievable.
10:07: The torrential downpour actually knocked Bryan’s DirecTV signal off as Ty Jerome hits a 3-pointer to end the first half. It’s 32-29 Virginia and we’re looking at a backup plan of watching the game on a laptop. We could prop it on a table, but the puppy took the element away.
10:27: During halftime, I've been texting my mom, who was concerned about my well-being in the rain. The conversation shifted to the game and she said “I'm pulling for Texas Tech. (You) don't have to tell him (with a smiley face emoji).
Well, I didn’t say anything until now.
10:30: That "Guy" starts the second half with a 3-pointer.
10:31: A graphic popped up on screen, which said Virginia has won 61 straight games when leading at halftime. It doesn't keep Bryan calm.
10:47: De’Andre Hunter hits a 3-pointer and Bryan says "Junious, that's what a shots supposed to look like." I know my shooting form makes Lonzo Ball look like Steph Curry — three points is three points.
10:52: Another 3 from Guy puts Virginia up 53-43 and Bryan with the fist pump. Could this hold?
11:09: Neuse News sports writer Keith Spence tweeted “what is it with (Virginia) and 10 point leads” about 18 minutes ago — and Norense Odiase could tie it with the completion of a 3-point play. There’s 3:28 remaining with Virginia now up 59-58.
11:15: Big plays by Virginia, but Bryan's had his hands on his head the whole time.
11:17: Texts from South Lenoir football coach Jeremy Joyner, Woodmen of the World National Director Danny Rice and Kinston athletic director and basketball coach Perry Tyndall among others telling Bryan to breathe. He hasn’t changed colors, so I’ll assume the advice is working.
11:26: After big shots on both sides, we’re tied at 68 with 1 second left and Texas Tech has possession on its side of the court. I've got Carolina-Villanova flashbacks from three years ago — don't let this happen to Bryan.
11:30: What a block by Braxton Key. We’re headed to overtime and Bryan’s phone is blowing up.
11:42: Jerome hits two free throws to give Virginia a little breathing room. It’s 77-73 with 41.5 seconds to play, but Bryan hasn’t exhaled yet — his hands have been on his head for most of overtime.
11:44: “Everyone’s sending congratulations when the (darn) game ain't over yet!” Safe to say, Bryan is leaving nothing to chance.
11:46: Key with the dunk to put Virginia up 83-75 with 14.8 seconds left. It's over.
11:48: A grown man is reflecting, crying and ecstatic.
How can you hate this moment for Bryan? If you read his column a few days ago (https://www.neusenews.com/index/2019/4/6/bryan-hanks-the-life-and-times-of-a-cavahoo) it chronicles his ups and downs as a Cavaliers fan. The team made history two straight years — infamy against UMBC in 2018 to a first national championship this season.
The ACC can continue to stake claim as the best conference in the country, especially with three titles in the past five years (Duke in 2015, Carolina in 2017, Virginia now). This was history in the making and I was thankful to witness it with a mentor who had looked for this One Shining Moment for decades.
Wahoowa, Bryan. Enjoy the label as a champion while I get optimistic about Carolina winning in 2020.