The vibe inside Cassell Coliseum Sunday evening was quite different from the building where ACC Tournament champion Duke had the devil beat out of them, and Virginia watched its hopes of a win die on the rim. The unknowns and anxiety of competition were replaced with celebration and elation. The Hokies were going dancing, and everyone knew it.
Well before Cassell's gate was set to open at 4:30 PM, there was a line stretching down the sidewalk, around the corner, and down Beamer Way almost to Lane Stadium. Even outside the buzz was palpable. There was a tailgate across the street, because Blacksburg, and honks from cars riding by blasted through the chilly air.
Outside, I asked several people how they felt about Tech's looming NCAA Tournament bid.
"I haven't been following Virginia Tech basketball for super long, but it's been a while hasn't it?," said 2019 undergrad Linh Huynh about Tech's 10-year drought. "I guess I felt like I should come be a part of this just because of how long it's been."
2020 undergrad Kimberly Trotter wanted to take in the rare moment too.
"I doubt this will be something we do every year, just because I think it's something we'll be expecting. But it's nice to recognize this accomplishment," Trotter said.
Once inside Cassell, the concourse was flooded as the Hokie faithful surged towards the promotions desk in hopes of snagging one of a thousand commemorative t-shirts.
First 1,000 at Sunday's Selection Show Watch Party receive one of these . Doors open at 4:30; program at 5, show at 5:30. & drinks, too pic.twitter.com/XcMJbCf0cV— VT Promotions (@VTPromos) March 11, 2017
And yet being crammed together like sardines could not deter the upbeat and happy crowd. As we all spilled into the seats, Jon Laaser and Mike Burnop MC'ed the half-an-hour-or-so before CBS' selection show actually started.
Tech began the pre-show festivities with a great montage of season highlights which noted the different achievements and records set by the Hokies this season. Tech's second straight 20-plus win season. A program-tying seven conference wins at home. Ty Outlaw's school-record eight three-point buckets against Miami. All that good stuff.
Next, Tech's seniors were interviewed by Laaser and Burnop. Former USF transfer Zach LeDay addressed the journey the he and the team had gone through.
"It's going to be just crazy," LeDay said. "It's going to be so much excitement. All the blood sweat and tears that goes into this. A lot of people don't get to see it. All the behind the scenes and all the craziness and stuff like that, but once we see that name, we'll be ready to play. Do everything it takes to win and get to this Final Four."
Buzz Williams spoke last and recognized all the people involved with the program. He first asked the parents of the players to stand up, followed by the wives of staff members. After them, he asked President Sands, Whit Babcock, and administrators to rise. Following them were the players and his staff. Finally, he recognized to the crowd.
"If I haven't called your name, it doesn't necessarily mean that I don't know your name, but you're just as important as all of the people that are standing up, so please stand up," Williams said to applause.
Throughout his remarks it was apparent how proud Williams was to have guided the program from the ACC's cellar to the brink of its first tournament appearance since 2007.
And then it happened. The selection show started, and the crowd didn't have to wait long to learn the Hokies' fate. It was the loudest sigh of relief I have ever heard.
I've been in Cassell too many times to remember. I've heard it at its loudest and its quietest. And while this might not have been the most raucous environment, it was certainly the happiest.
Moving forward on Williams' watch, the Hokies may make the NCAA tournament more often than not. After all, winning appears to be a byproduct of the culture Williams has cultivated in Blacksburg. However, this was a unique event. After experiencing years of losses mixed with the disappointment of popped bubbles, those in Cassell were rewarded a memory ten years in the making — the jubilation of watching Virginia Tech punch its dance ticket.