Mamadi Diakite’s buzzer-beater threw Saturday’s NCAA Tournament game against Purdue into overtime. And five well-executed minutes later, with an 80-75 final score, UVA men’s basketball shot into its first Final Four since 1984. That game has been deemed an instant classic, but there’s nothing instant about UVA’s long tradition of basketball excellence.
As we look ahead to the tournament’s next round, Virginia Magazine takes a look back at just a few of UVA’s basketball greats, both men and women, and tries to answer: So, where are they now?
Wally Walker (Col ’76)
- ACC Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, 1976
- Retired number (41)
- Wahoo family: son, Joe Walker (Col ’18)
Memorable moment: Defeating the nationally ranked University of North Carolina 67-62 to win UVA’s first ACC title in 1976 in a three-game stretch, where he earned the nickname “Wally Wonderful.”
Now in Seattle, Wally Walker remains invested in UVA after stints as an NBA player and the Seattle SuperSonics president and general manager. Walker sits on The Miller Center’s governing council, holds UVA basketball season tickets and played a role in getting Coach Tony Bennett hired. A couple of weeks before Bennett took the job, Walker watched him coach Washington State and remembers thinking it was one of the best-coached teams he’d seen. “They didn’t have much talent, yet they were so competitive and executed so well,” Walker says.
Soon after, Walker fielded calls from then-Athletic Director Craig Littlepage and then-Executive Associate AD Jon Oliver as they considered Bennett for the post. “My reaction was, ‘I don’t know him personally, but what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard, he’s perfect,’” Walker says. “Craig got the deal done.”
Back in Seattle, Walker runs an investment fund and is working to attract an NBA team to the city. But he’s no longer shooting hoops. “My joints tell me, ‘Don’t do that,’” he says.
Bobby Stokes (Educ ’79, Med ’84)
- All ACC Tournament First Team, 1977
- All ACC Academic, 1979
- Tied with Isaiah Wilkins (Col ’18) for consecutively made field goals: 12
- Wahoo family: daughters Lauren Stokes (Col ’10), Jordan Stokes (Col ’15) and Maggie Stokes (Col ’15)
Memorable moment: The 1976 ACC Tournament semi-final game. In the final minutes, Stokes made five free throws, helping UVA beat Maryland, 73-65. The next day, the team won its first ACC Championship. “It wasn’t until afterward that the magnitude set in of just what had happened,” Stokes says.
Now, Stokes is a family practice doctor in Charlottesville who enjoys going to church and visiting wineries with his wife. And his patients still want to talk basketball. “A lot of them say, ‘I didn’t know you were so tall,’” says Stokes, who stands 5 feet, 10-and-a-half inches. “And I say, ‘I was really tall then because I had a 6-inch afro.’”
Jackie LaBerge Gunn (Col ’81)
- Tri-captain in 1980-1981 with Val Ackerman and Dori Gamble
- All-Conference ACC Honors, 1980
Memorable moment: Beating No. 11 Maryland, 71-57, in January 1981, in front of a rowdy crowd at U-Hall. Gunn credits UVA’s earliest women’s team players for paving the way. “Those players had such an impact when [we] 18-year-olds rolled in, in 1977,” she says.
Gunn spent 24 years crisscrossing the country during her husband’s Air Force career. Along the way, she held university or government jobs. Ten years ago, her husband retired, and they built a home in rural Idaho. Now, she volunteers, travels and works part time at the Idaho statehouse as a quality control analyst. “It’s fun having a home these last 10 years after being a gypsy in the Air Force,” she says.
Ralph Sampson (Col ’83)
- Four-time All-American, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983
- ACC Player of the Year, 1981, 1982, 1983
- National Player of the Year, 1981, 1982, 1983
- Retired number (50)
- Wahoo family: Current UVA player Braxton Key (Col ’20), whose mother is Sampson’s cousin
Memorable moment: Sampson gave fans plenty of moments to choose from, including the NIT championship in 1980, NCAA tourney appearances in 1981, 1982 and 1983, and a spot in the Final Four in 1981. But the Hall of Famer says that, for him, the most important memories are the ones made with his teammates: “We all keep in touch. ... When you play in the battle and trenches of the game, you create a brotherhood.”
These days, Sampson, who splits his time between Los Angeles and Virginia, runs the Sampson Family Foundation, a nonprofit inspired by his parents, which raises money to support cancer patients and college students. In his free time, you might find him working out, hanging with friends and family, and, as the former NBA player puts it, “just trying to be the best I can be every day.”
Ricky Stokes (Col ’84)
- Set UVA records for season steals and career games
- Frances Pomeroy Naismith Hall of Fame Award for most outstanding senior college player under 6-feet tall, 1984
- Wahoo family: wife, Karen Rose Stokes (Col ’82, Law ’85); daughter, Sydney Stokes (Col ’18)
Memorable moment: UVA’s win over Georgetown in 1982 (a match that pit Sampson against future NBA superstar Patrick Ewing) and the 1982 heartbreaker against Chaminade, when the unranked team beat the No. 1 Cavaliers. “Every five or 10 years,” Stokes says, “reporters call me about that loss.” But, after No. 16 seed University of Maryland, Baltimore County defeated top-ranked UVA during the 2018 NCAA tourney, he adds, “maybe I won’t get those calls anymore.”
For the Stokes family, UVA basketball is a family affair. Brother Bobby (see above) played a few years before Ricky joined the team. And his daughter served as manager for the men’s team. “She’s probably more invested in Virginia men’s basketball than we are,” he says. “She doesn’t miss a game.”
Today, Stokes’ job as the Mid-American Conference senior associate basketball commissioner in Ohio requires him to follow other teams. And, as a former college coach, he’s happy to be a bit removed from the daily ups and—especially—downs of leading a team. “It’s close to the game,” Stokes says of his job, “but, at the end of the night, I get to go home.”
Jim “Jimmy” Miller (Col ’85)
- East Regional MVP, 1984
- Shot 1,218 points, ranking 36th in all-time scoring at UVA
- Wahoo family: wife, Rachel Lloyd Miller (Col ’93)
Memorable moment: Winning the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional Championship in 1984. “That feeling of winning and watching my teammates jump up and down and tackling each other as our fans embraced—that moment of joy is something I will never forget,” Miller says.
Two years ago, this father of two and CEO of Charlottesville-based Miller Financial Group went back on the road with UVA basketball as an analyst for the Virginia Sports Network’s radio broadcast. And he’s sprinkling in some magic when he can. Miller picked up a love of illusions as a child and continues to perform, including for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. (Some from that decade might remember his Trick of the Week, shared during Coach Terry Holland’s weekly television show.)
“I love taking what seem to be normal everyday objects and trying to create that magical belief and wonderment that exists from when we were children,” he says. “As we get older, we lose that.”
John Crotty (Col ’91)
- Scored 1,646 points and 413 career free throws; is still No. 1 for career assists at 683 and No. 1, No. 2 and No. 7 for season assists at 214, 208 and 169
- Wahoo family: wife, Kara Garth Crotty (Com ’91); daughters Cassie Crotty (Batten ’19) and Connor Crotty (Col ’21)
Memorable moment: Fans will remember the Cavs’ 1989 run in the NCAA tournament, beating top-seeded Oklahoma to reach the Elite Eight before falling to Michigan, the eventual champion. Crotty’s 208 assists set a UVA single-season record that year. But if you ask Crotty for his favorite moment, he can’t pick one. “It’s more the group of moments and just being with the different players,” he says.
Crotty hasn’t spent much time away from basketball since graduating. He played 11 seasons in the NBA and took a year or two off before launching a broadcast career—first radio and then studio TV for the Miami Heat, where he had played professionally for a season. In 2018, Crotty, who also sells commercial property, became a TV analyst for the Heat and travels with the team. “It’s just a great way to stay in the game,” Crotty says, “and stay connected to something I really love.”
Dawn Staley (Col ’92)
- NCAA Tournament Final Four Most Outstanding Player, 1991
- Naismith Player of the Year, 1991, 1992
- ACC Female Athlete of the Year, 1991, 1992
- ACC Player of the Year, 1991, 1992
- Sports Illustrated Player of the Year, 1991
- Retired number (24)
Memorable moment: It’s hard to pick a single moment during Dawn Staley’s history-making turn at UVA, but fans won’t forget the 1991 championship game where Staley scored a record-breaking 28 points. Though the ’Hoos lost in overtime, Staley was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, the first time a player from the losing team took home the honor. But for Staley, it wasn’t just about the game. “My whole experience at UVA gave me the foundation to navigate through life,” she says.
Staley, a former WNBA player and three-time Olympic gold medal winner, is now head coach for both the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team and the USA Basketball Women’s National Team. Staley calls herself a “dream merchant” for her youngest players.
“I’m in the thing that I absolutely love to do,” she says. “If I can help somebody else find their aspirations, it’s an honor.”
In rare free moments, Staley plays cards to take her mind off basketball but keep her competitive juices flowing, or she walks Champ, her Havanese named after South Carolina’s 2017 national championship win. “He’s like an emotional support for me when we lose basketball games,” she says. “He’s just the same way every day. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Tammi Reiss (Educ ’92)
- All-Time Academic All-American, 1997
- Academic All-American, 1992
- Academic All-ACC, 1990, 1991, 1992
- Kodak All-American, 1991
Memorable moment: Beating North Carolina State 67-64 in overtime and giving Coach Debbie Ryan her first ACC championship in 1990. “We never lost focus,” Reiss says.
Decades later, players from that history-making team stay close and, as college coaches, sometimes face each other on the court. Reiss is an assistant women’s coach at Syracuse University, and there’s South Carolina’s Staley, South Carolina State’s Audra Smith (Col ’92) and Temple’s Tonya Cardoza (Col ’92). “I love my Wahoo sisters,” Reiss says. “I want nothing but the best for them, unless they are playing us. Then we’ll beat you, and we’ll have a nice dinner afterwards.”
Coaching wasn’t where Reiss thought she’d be after UVA. She wanted to be the next Meryl Streep and so picked up acting roles, including in the Disney Channel movie Double Teamed, about UVA’s Burge sisters. “I needed a break from basketball for a little while,” she says. And when she ultimately retires from the game, Reiss plans to return to acting. “Sports are entertainment. It’s not that much different.”
Heidi Burge Horton (Col ’93) and Heather Burge Quella (Col ’93)
- Three-time ACC Academic Honor Roll member, 1991, 1992, 1993
- Scored 1,191 points during 134 games played
Memorable moment: The 1990 Final Four appearance against Stanford, the eventual champion, in Tennessee. The jeers of thousands of Tennessee fans, angry that the Cavs had earlier beaten their team, gave Horton some stage fright. “Once the game did start, and I was playing on the court,” she says, “the fans and noise and negative comments from the Knoxville supporters all faded away.”
Lessons from UVA often appear at Hoops School, a Houston-based children’s basketball program that Horton took over from former teammate Dena Evans (Col ’93). “Every day, I start just like [Coach] Debbie Ryan … with the word of the week,” Horton says. “It’s always about instilling wisdom in the deeper things that matter more.”
The former professional player also works as an orthopedic massage therapist and stays busy with family and community commitments. “I’m a living-out-loud type of person,” the mom of two says, “... just because I’m tall and very visible. I’m happy to be a figure for good in my little private area.”
- NCAA East Regional All-Tournament Team, 1992, 1993
- Academic All-American, 1992, 1993
- ACC Player of the Year, 1993
Memorable moment: Beating fourth-ranked Tennessee in 1990 to advance to UVA women’s first Final Four. “We were such a young team, and it was such an exciting upset,” Quella says.
Quella played for the U.S. women’s national and professional teams after graduation—for which she gives credit to the work ethic she learned at UVA. “It prepared me to take responsibility for myself,” she says. Today, she has expectations for her own students. Quella, of San Pedro, California, returned to the classroom last year after spending 11 years away raising her three sons. She teaches Spanish and PE and will run a basketball academy this summer. “When I was so into it, of course, the logical thing was to go into coaching,” Quella says. “But I’m not a playmaker. I’m not the X’s and O’s coach. I’m teaching the game, and I innately love teaching.”
Curtis Staples (Col ’98)
- One of the top 3-point shooters in NCAA basketball history
- Retired number (5)
Memorable moment: The 1995 match against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Down 25 points at halftime, the Cavaliers won the game in double overtime, 91-88. “It was just great to overcome such huge odds,” Staples says.
Staples played professionally overseas after graduation and today is a prep school coach. He first coached basketball at Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Virginia, winning two state championships and sending more than 30 students to Division 1 schools on basketball scholarships; then last year, he moved to Lakeway Christian Academy in Tennessee. Staples, a father of two, says he relishes the chance to guide his players on their path to college: “Catching boys at that vulnerable age, right in there at the 15- to 18-year-old age range, it’s an important time for them in terms of development. I’ve had a lot of success with that.”
Photos courtesy of the athletes, Corks & Curls, Dan Grogan, UVA Athletics, South Carolina Athletics, Syracuse University Athletics, Virginia Magazine