Mamadi Diakite had just overcome his fear of jumping into water when he can’t see bottom, trusting his teammates when they told him it would be all right. And then his own coach goes and betrays him.

“Coach [Tony] Bennett went under the water and grabbed my leg. I screamed,” Diakite said. “I didn’t know what it was, and he said, ‘I got you.’ ”

Virginia’s white-water rafting excursion this summer was one of many activities the Cavaliers shared together en route to the national championship game. And all of it — from rafting to cards to Jenga to miniature golf — has helped bring the No. 1 seed closer. In February, the team started skipping its pregame shootarounds, instead preferring a name-that-tune competition with live music — oldies and current hits — from redshirt freshman Francesco Badocchi on the keyboard. It’s tied right now with a game apiece for the veterans, underclassmen and coaches, but Badocchi said its recently devolved into just a concert.

“If we have a big bond, and if we’re really united, I feel like it helps with the chemistry on the court,” Badocchi said. “All these trips and games have helped us really come together and know each other not just as players but as teammates and just as brothers.”

The bonding is meant to be fun and stress-relieving. But Bennett has reflected on some poignant moments from it. He recalled floating down the river while rafting, taking in the beautiful setting and asking himself, “What’s this year going to bring?”

When the team arrived this week, they received oars with the words “the road ends here” printed on them. And that had Bennett answering his own question: “Here we are.”

Run with the ’Hoos

Virginia school President James E. Ryan tweeted: “Hoos in Minneapolis: let’s keep this run going ... literally!” while inviting fans to a Monday morning (7:30) run and pep rally at the Commons park near the stadium.


Staff writer Joe Christensen contributed to this report.