MINNEAPOLIS, Mn. (WVIR) -

 

The Virginia basketball team is playing in the National Championship game for the first time in program history on Monday night.
 
It's a dream-come-true for any college athlete, but even more special for a few players on the Cavaliers' roster, who all grew up rooting for the 'Hoos.
 
Jayden Nixon went to Saint Anne's-Belfield, while Austin Katstra and Grant Kersey played together at Albemarle High School.
 
Kersey started the season as manager with UVa, but he earned playing time from head coach Tony Bennett, and saw action in a few games during the regular season.
 
"Me and Austin grew up watching the Final Four together," says Kersey, "so it's really cool to be a part of it together, and to see us go to the Final Four together in states, in high school, and now to be at this stage, at the Final Four again with him."
 
"This is a step up from the state tournament Final Four, obviously," says Katstra, "but to be able to do this with him, he's one of my best friends.  Just to have that friendship, and be able to do this with him, is something I wouldn't trade."
 
Katstra earned a scholarship this year, after walking on for his freshman season.
 
Nixon says, "All of us did really well on our prospective high school teams.  To be able to come to a team like this, and be servants for the team, in whichever way possible.  To see the fruits of our labor come to fruition has been great."
 
When Virginia beat Auburn to advance to the title game for the first time in program history, it was Katstra lifting Kyle Guy in the air in celebration.
 
"That was awesome," says the sophomore.  "He's one of my best friends.  We're extremely close.  To celebrate that moment with him, it was really emotional for him, I'm sure, and he was so happy, it was just great."
 
As life-long fans of the Cavaliers, the players know the history of the program, and how much their success means.
 
Nixon says, "I've been watching Coach Bennett coach UVa for the past ten years. so being able to be a part of his great program, and his dynasty at UVa basketball, is a real blessing."
 
"I knew Virginia could do it," says Kersey, "but I never knew I would be a part of it in the way I am today."
 
Katstra adds, "I've been following this team my whole life, so to be able to be a part of the team that made it to the first National Championship appearance is surreal, really.  It's a great experience.  I'm not going to take it for granted.  We know how hard it is to get here, and I'm gonna take it all in.
 
Mamadi Diakite hails from Guinea, on the western coast of Africa, but he played his high school ball at Blue Ridge.
 
UVa also has former Charlottesville basketball stars Chris McGahren (Western Albemarle) and Matt Palumbo (STAB) serving as team managers.
 
Virginia and Texas Tech tip-off at 9:20 on Monday night in Minneapolis.