Saturday night, Kyle Guy walked to the line needing to make three free throws to send Virginia to the men’s national championship game. He made all three.
Monday night, Guy went to the line four times in overtime. After he made his first free throw, he began smiling and chatting, treating the biggest minutes of the biggest game of his life as if he were playing H-O-R-S-E with friends.
That’s your shining moment, right there. A year after a historic first-round upset to Maryland-Baltimore County led to Guy’s anxiety overwhelming him, he played basketball like the joyful game it is supposed to be.
Guy would make all four of his free-throws in overtime and be named the outstanding player of the Final Four after Virginia’s 85-77 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium. What could he have been saying between shots, before 72,000 people and a nation of basketball fans whose sleep he stole?
“I do a good job of being able to be focused and also have fun,” he said. ‘‘I looked into the stands at my family, I smiled at them. I knew I was going to hit both.
“All March I’ve been saying ‘We can do this, man.’ And I said, ‘We did it, man,’ multiple times. It means the world that I get to share this with my brothers.”
The story isn’t so much that Virginia won the title a year after losing to UMBC. The story isn’t so much that Virginia fought through Texas Tech’s octopus-arms defense to score 85 points.
If spectacles like the Final Four have any global meaning, stories like Guy’s are the reason.
After the UMBC loss, Guy went to the locker room and cried. He would receive death threats along with the usual online hatred targeting those who disappoint sports fans.
“I was in a dark place,” Guy said this weekend. “I just wanted to stay in my shell.”
Even before that game, Guy had tried to manage anxiety that persisted in spite of, perhaps even because of, his successes. He was Mr. Basketball in Indiana. He helped Virginia become a No. 1 seed for two consecutive years.
In the last year or two, more athletes and public figures have talked about anxiety and depression, despite lives that, from afar, look pristine. Former Timberwolf Kevin Love wrote about his struggles for The Players Tribune.
Guy turned author to confront his demons, writing letters that he posted on Facebook. Could he have written a better story than his Final Four performance? “I’m not the greatest writer to begin with,” he said.
“I said in one of my letters just because you walked in on that chapter doesn’t mean you know the whole story. We’re definitely on a different chapter now. Really proud to bring home the first championship for UVA basketball. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”
He made eight of 15 shots on Monday, including four of his nine from the three-point line, to produce 24 points in a game-high 45 minutes. And he made those four free throws in overtime.
Guy’s performance would be considered clutch if he were as cocky as Michael Jordan. For a skinny and anxious 21-year-old, this was transcendent.
“I got a lot more positive feedback than I was expecting, just because with anything we do on this stage there’s a little bit of criticism that comes with it,’’ Guy said last week. “I’m happy if I was able to help even one person.”
Guy sought help from a sports psychologist, took medication and moderated a mental health symposium for athletes. Then he helped Virginia through comebacks and closeouts, turning pressure into something precious.
He kept a reminder of the UMBC loss as his screensaver for a year. Now?
“It’s going to be me celebrating,” he said. “I don’t know which picture yet, but it’s going to be a happy moment. For sure.”