'A dream come true': how a team manager went from wiping floors to living out his childhood fantasy as a player at the University of Virginia

Virginia Sports TV
  • Lifelong Virginia Cavaliers fan and University of Virginia junior Grant Kersey spent two years as a manager for his school’s men’s basketball team before Virginia head coach Tony Bennett gave him a jersey to dress for home games.
  • The 6-foot-1, 160-pound guard has seen a bit of time in the Cavaliers’ early-season games, sending John Paul Jones Arena into a frenzy every time he makes a big play.
  • Kersey even made ESPN’s “Top 10” on “SportsCenter” after knocking down a three in the final minutes of Virginia’s matchup against Coppin State.
  • In a conversation with INSIDER, Kersey discussed his childhood love of the Cavaliers, how Bennett broke the good news, and what his life is like in the spotlight.

A Charlottesville, Virginia, native, Grant Kersey can remember spending Saturdays cheering on the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team at John Paul Jones Arena throughout his childhood.

He recalls taking a particular interest in the players at the far end of Virginia’s bench. As a ballboy and spectator, Kersey found himself cheering for walk-ons to get playing time and to score during blowout victories.

He never dreamed that one day he would become one of them.

Kersey had played basketball all of his life and became a dominant player at Albemarle High School. He considered playing in college, but he was presented with the opportunity to become a manager for the perennially dominant Cavaliers squad. He then realised having the opportunity to continue his love affair with the game “was too hard to pass up at a school like this.”

Kersey didn’t get to soak in the glory of representing a college as a player. Instead, he spent his first two years at UVA organising equipment, wiping the sweat off the hardwood, dispensing towels and drinks, and rebounding for players after practice.

That’s when everything changed. The night before Virginia’s first game of the 2018-19 season, head coach Tony Bennett presented Kersey with the opportunity of a lifetime.

“‘We just want to reward you,'” Kersey recalls Bennett saying. “‘We’re giving you a jersey, and we’re going to dress you for the home games this year.'”

Kersey hadn’t played competitively since high school, but the following day, he found himself on the floor for the team he grew up idolizing. He donned a jersey far too big for his 6-foot-1, 160-pound frame with “Virginia” printed across the back instead of his last name.

He made his way into another game five days later and onto the stat sheet after he was fouled. He made both shots with ease and glowed as the rambunctious home crowd cheered in his honour.

“That was really cool to see when I was at the free throw line to hear the crowd,” Kersey told INSIDER. “I was trying not to think too much about everything because I didn’t want to psych myself out, but it was really surreal, so I was also trying to take it all in.”

The following game, Kersey went viral. He used his four minutes on the court against the Coppin State Eagles to drain a three-pointer, earning him a spot in “SportsCenter’s” top-10 plays and catapulting him into the spotlight.

Kersey has since secured a better-fitting jersey and more clips for his highlight reel.

He notched an assist on a dunk and finished on an and-1 against the Morgan State Bears.

But despite his newfound fame and success on the court, Kersey still happily performs his managerial duties at practices and away games.

“I wouldn’t trade my two years as a manager for anything,” Kersey said. “Putting in the hard work, being able to see behind the scenes, and helping out whenever I could to serve the guys just kind of makes me who I am. I love being able to help out and do whatever they need.”

Virginia bench celebrates Grant KerseyRyan M. Kelly/Getty ImagesThe Virginia Cavaliers cheer from the bench as Grant Kersey finishes an and-1 against the Morgan State Bears.

Still, Kersey understands that his story resonates with a lot of people. He says one of the most rewarding aspects of his whirlwind five weeks on the Cavaliers’ roster has been interacting with people who are inspired by his story. He hopes his experience motivates others to keep their heads down and work hard themselves.

“That’s one of the coolest things that’s happened so far. People on social media will message me saying that I was an inspiration to them,” Kersey said. “My message [to them] is just how far… being ready to help out can get you. Sometimes you’re doing stuff that you’re thinking is going unnoticed, but you just have to stay true to your work ethic and see that if you work right and do everything right, it will come to light sooner rather than later.”

Virginia has three non-conference opponents remaining before conference games begin in early January, so Kersey may play again before the end of the year. But regardless of what comes next, Kersey says he’s just appreciative for all of the good fortunes that have already come his way.

“Growing up, I remember I used to be in the stands waiting for the walk-ons and the guys at the end of the bench to get in and just hoping that they would score,” Kersey said. “To be on the other side of that and then hear everyone cheer for me being on the court, that was really a dream come true.”

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