Kyle Guy placed the picture on his bedroom wall and made it the background on his iPhone. A reminder of the pain he felt a year ago.
He hasn’t taken the picture down — an image of him emotionally deflated at the end of Virginia’s historic loss to Maryland-Baltimore County last year — even though his team, and his life, look nothing like the moment captured in that photo anymore.
“It’s a lot easier to put a smile on my face,” he said. “I’m back to the old me. I appreciate everything that I’ve been through and those tough times because it makes this so much sweeter.”
A Final Four appearance — the school’s first since 1984 — feels especially rewarding since it comes a year after Virginia earned the dubious distinction of being the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in NCAA tournament history.
Guy had to be helped off the court by a teammate when it was over, too devastated by the moment.
He cried in the locker room and was inconsolable in his family’s hotel room that night.
Weeks later, Guy, a third-team All-America guard, shared publicly that he suffers from anxiety and experienced panic attacks last season. He saw a psychiatrist and took medication for his anxiety.
His anxiety and the emotions that raged inside him after the loss to UMBC left him in a “dark place.” Guy opened up to his longtime trainer, Derick Grant, as the two made the nine-hour drive from Virginia back to their hometown of Indianapolis at the end of the school year.
“I realized he wasn’t in a good place mentally,” Grant said.
Guy was nervous to share something so personal with anyone outside his inner circle, but his fiancée encouraged him to post letters that he had written to himself on social media. The response was overwhelmingly kind and supportive.
“I just wanted to be a beacon of hope for people,” he said. “I got a lot more positive feedback than I was expecting.”
Guy has a strong support system in a blended family that he describes as “unique.” His mom and dad and stepmom and stepdad are close friends. And he has five younger siblings, which is why he picked No. 5 for his uniform number.
Those closest to Guy describe his personality as self-assured and happy. He wouldn’t cry or throw a fit when his parents put him in timeout as a child. Instead, he found ways to entertain himself until timeout was over.
“He’s always been happy-go-lucky,” said his mom, Katy Fitzgerald.
Teammates became aware of his anxiety problems last season and were “super supportive,” Guy said. Family members didn’t know the depths of his struggle but noticed subtle signs with things he said in conversations. Nothing that alarmed them at the time.
“When he opened up to us before the world, it was, dang, how did we not see that?” said his dad, Joe. “But the way that he has embraced it and has tackled it goes back to his individual gumption.”
Guy remained one of the ACC’s top performers this season to earn third-team All-America honors again, helping the Cavaliers earn a No. 1 seed. He hopes to help college athletes deal with the pressures they face.
“One of the best things about him is how confident he is in his own skin,” teammate Ty Jerome said. “He’s not really worried about a lot of people’s opinions. He’s super confident on and off the court.”
That confidence was evident at the South Region in Louisville. Guy struggled with his shooting the first three games of the tournament, yet he acted unfazed, saying he never thinks about slumps.
He rediscovered his touch in the final against Purdue, scoring 25 points with five three-pointers.
Afterward, the team hotel was chaotic but a good kind of chaos, his mother said. Fitzgerald described herself as being numb “in the best way ever.”
“Nobody could stop either crying or jumping up and down and hugging,” she said.
The celebration was as cathartic as it was joyous. Guy’s father laughed when asked to compare that scene to the family’s hotel room in Charlotte a year ago following the UMBC loss.
“180 [degrees] doesn’t even do it justice,” he said. “I couldn’t get out of Charlotte fast enough. I didn’t want to leave Louisville. When they say the best thing to ever do is cry for joy — without question.”