COLUMBIA, S.C. – Taped on the wall above Kyle Guy's bed is a reminder or defeat.
In the photo, snapped last March, Guy is deflated, hunched and with tears welling in his eyes. In the background, UMBC's players are joyous. They are hugging and screaming. Two players are preparing for chest bump, meeting for mid-air ecstasy, after the retrievers became the first no. 16 seed in men's NCAA Tournament history to knock off at no. 1
The photo captures the magic of the NCAA Tournament in a frame. The underdog knocking off the top died. The unrealistic made real
For Virginia, however, the photo came to define failure. And for Guy, cut it even deeper
What outsiders couldn't see was the pressure bearing down on Guy, two decades of coming into focus in the form of public humiliation. A 6-foot-2, 175-pound guard, Guy doesn't look like a star basketball player. He's the anti-Zion Williamson.
If sports fans live vicariously through larger-than-life heroes, Guy does not like him for it. The UMBC loss was proof of his fallibility
It was Guy's breaking point.
He had been battling anxiety for much of the season, fighting through double teams and panic attacks, and after the UMBC loss, he burst into tears. He returned to Charlottesville after the tournament was found at the root of his anxiety, and that included owning what happened. He found the newspaper with that infamous image on the cover and purchased it, displaying it in his room so that he never had to look for motivation. [Friday] Friday, Guy and the No. 1-seeded Cavaliers kick off the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina. On the other end of the court will be No. 16-seed Gardner-Webb, this year's Cinderella hopeful. Much of the nation will watch with wide eyes, giddy to see Virginia choke again, to see Guy fail.
The Indianapolis, Indiana, native knows this. As has continued to work on his mental health, he's heard the "UMBC" chants in opposing arenas, and, in the era when the through to college athletes has been opened through social media, seen the trolls in his Twitter mentions entertaining the fantasy of punching him in the face
He has little interest in proving them wrong, though. He is more interested in taking his story back.
"We're ready to put on a show this year, so we can talk about something else," Guy said.
On a weekend back home last spring, he handed his father a note. A former Marine, Joe Guy is not one to speak openly about his feelings. He once confused a panic attack for a heart attack. Then he read the letter, which detailed his son's inner narrative. "Not everyone knows, but you've been taking medication for your anxiety attacks every season. You've kept it secret because you didn't want to be viewed as weak. You were worried people might think you're built for this, ”wrote Guy in the letter he later shared on Facebook. "They don't understand you could smile through the laughter half of the season because the anxiety and pressure was eating at you, but you still kept pushing."
Positive comments flooded in. As a new season approached last fall, Guy continued to speak openly about his anxiety, following in the footsteps of forms teammate Isaiah Wilkins. He shared with reporters that he was still reading his feelings, and he hosted a mental health panel for Virginia athletes on Grounds.
A third team All-American last season, the junior led the team in scoring through much of the 2018- 19 regular season. But his anxiety is still on him. He had a panic attack before one of the first games of the season, his mother, Katy Fitzgerald said, and she spent much of the team's nonconference slate in Charlottesville hotels, the eight-hour drive from Indianapolis becoming routine.
"Sometimes I left on Tuesday, came back Wednesday then went back on the weekend, "she said.
Guy's fiancée, Alexa Jenkins, spent several weeks in Charlottesville with him, too, Fitzgerald said. On Jan 2, Jenkins uploaded a video to YouTube or reading some of the mean tweets he had been tagged in.
"Virgina's Kyle Guy might as well be Grayson Allen, in other words, someone everyone should hate, "One read."
"Not actively suggesting, but if somebody wants to casually take Kyle Guy out during halftime, I would not be mad," read another.
"Those are the ones that make me mad," Jenkins said in the video. "Like, how would you like it if you had 20 people saying," I hope you get hit by a car? " Like, 'I hope you get punched in the face.' 'I hope you die.' ”
Lost in the hoopla of March Madness, with the office pools and bracket busting and with ongoing federal corruption investigation shadowing the sport, is that the players are amateur athletes, just kids on the court playing a game they love.
Virginia players were the object of jokes in the wake of their tournament defeat, but they also received death threats. They were national punching bags, and Guy seemed to be the worst of it.
“If you are a fan, you're supposed to ride with the team through profit and loss. Maybe we lost some fans, but if we lost some fans, they are not real fans, ”said De Hunter, who wrapped his arm around the guard as a guard in his jersey after the UMBC loss.
After Virginia's 83-45 win over Morgan State on Dec. 3, the media is wearing a blue hoodie that reads: "Just a kid from Indianapolis" in gray lettering. He flashed the smile that struck with the family and friends in attendance that follow him to every game.
"They mean the world to me, and that's why I put on this jersey every night," Guy said. “For people like them.”
He was in less-friendly territory Nov. 28. When he stepped onto the court in College Park, Maryland, for pregame warmups, the Terrapins' faithful reminded Guy of what happened last March. They chanted “UMBC” and flashed signs bearing that photo
What they didn't know was Guy, who scored 18 points in Virginia's 76-71 win, had become friendly with the image, sleeping under it every night. In the months that followed, as the Cavaliers rolled to their second consecutive ACC regular season championship, Guy made the image his Twitter avatar. He retweeted references to UMBC's historic win. He encouraged forms Retrievers guard K.J. Maura to attend the Cavaliers game at Duke on Jan. 19 and stand among the Cameron Crazies, as some bright Blue Devils fans had called for.
After the Maryland game, he confirmed a reporter's suspicion that the team was playing with more determination this season. He was asked to elaborate.
"I think everybody knows why," Guy said.
His mother has noticed a difference in recent weeks. His voice no longer sounds flat and empty. He calls home less frequently. In early March sit down with his uncle, Bryan Patterson, who is also a former Marine, found the phrase "Calm is contagious," and wove the sentiment into his life.
But there are still challenges.  On March 14, Guy scored 29 points in Virginia's win over NC State in the ACC Tournament Quarter Final, but he couldn't shoot them to victory after the semi-final loss to Florida State.
Afterwards, he has been at his locker in the Spectrum Center, the same Charlotte, North Carolina. family had left out of a year earlier, tears dripping from their eyes.
"I would say you can throw this on, too, because we had expectations and goals and aspirations," Guy said. "There is only one way to go when you fall down, is back up."
And then he packed up his uniform, piled in his earbuds and boarded the flight back to Charlottesville, leaving behind the sight of the defeat that no longer defines him