That opportunity never came. The sport’s signature event was canceled shortly thereafter, and seniors such as Key and fellow starter Mamadi Diakite began to process the abrupt ending to their careers one season removed from the school’s first national championship.
“It’s obviously disappointing, but the guys, we actually ended up playing a game of knockout,” Key said, adding the team learned its season was over upon arriving in Charlottesville. “It was fun. I mean, it was [also] kind of sad. It was our last team event, but it was a kind of a good way to go out. It was definitely difficult, especially being a senior, for myself and Mamadi, but, I mean, there are so many great memories. It’s all right.”
Key and Diakite spoke to the media this week via video conferencing, detailing their plans after college, including potential careers in the NBA, and recounting their time at Virginia.
Diakite’s path to Virginia began in Guinea, where he did not play basketball until well into his teenage years. His raw talent was undeniable, however, and Diakite eventually found himself at Blue Ridge School outside Charlottesville and the recipient of a scholarship offer from the Cavaliers.
The 6-foot-9 forward made an impact almost immediately on defense, most notably as a shot blocker. Over his four years, he developed a jump shot that, as a senior, allowed him to blossom into a threat from behind the three-point arc.
His ascent as a two-way player drew attention from NBA scouts during a junior season that included one of the most memorable shots in program history during the NCAA tournament region final. His long jumper off a pass from Kihei Clark swished through as time expired to force overtime against Purdue, and the Cavaliers went on to win, 80-75, to advance to the Final Four in Minneapolis.
Diakite explored entering the NBA draft last year but elected to come back, helping No. 16 Virginia (23-7) close the season on an eight-game winning streak and finish second in the conference, earning a double bye in the ACC tournament.
He indicated his career at Virginia is almost certainly over as he pursues his dream of playing in the NBA, even if the NCAA votes Monday to grant seniors another year of eligibility after the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were scrapped.
“We were very confident,” Diakite said of the Cavaliers’ frame of mind leading up to the cancellation of the ACC and NCAA tournaments. “We were ready to surprise the world. We were ready to do something special, but again, we have to respect safety first.”
Key also has NBA aspirations following two seasons with the Cavaliers.
The 6-8 swingman transferred to Virginia from Alabama and received a waiver to play without having to sit out a year. Her will be remembered in Charlottesville for, among other plays, a block at the end of regulation in the NCAA tournament final that sent the game to overtime.
The Cavaliers went on to beat Texas Tech, 85-77, with Key collecting a game-high 10 rebounds to go with six points and two assists. The cathartic victory came a season after Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 in NCAA men’s tournament history.
“We got back to Charlottesville, we met in the locker room, and, I mean, it was obviously sad,” Key said of the players’ last time together as a group. “No one wants to see their season end. You work all summer long, all preseason, lifting, waking up early to run, doing all this stuff for no postseason.
“It’s difficult, obviously, but [Bennett] knows it had to be done. Everyone had to take precautionary measures. It’s out of our control.”
Read more on colleges: