Jack Salt creates history

Jack Salt creates history
Tall Black Jack Salt has ended his career at Virginia University in the finest fashion possible, helping the Cavaliers to the biggest prize in American College basketball.

In front of 70,000 fans at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis the Cavaliers defeated Texas Tech 85-77 in overtime to claim the NCAA Men’s Division I Championship.

For Salt and Virginia University it was an occasion of firsts. For the Cavaliers it is a first national championship and for the Tall Blacks centre, a little piece of New Zealand basketball history. The Former Westlake Boys, North Harbour and Breakers standout becomes the first Kiwi to win an NCAA Championship ring.

In his 127th and final collegiate game the Virginia co-captain was something of a bit-part player, claiming just the one rebound in four minutes play but his overall contribution to the Cavaliers programme during the last four years cannot be underestimated. 

During that time he has recorded more rebounds (439) than points (415) with his tenacious defence, understanding of the Virginia offensive and defensive systems and a team first attitude making him a cult figure amongst the fans and a valued player amongst his teammates. One statistic that bears out his value is that he has started in 106 of his 127 appearances and 97 of 105 games in the last three years.

The Cavs have bounced back in fine style this season after being eliminated by University of Maryland, Baltimore County last year – the first No 1 seed to be knocked out by a 16th seed.

It hasn’t been plain sailing in this year’s tournament for Virginia either. They came from four points down with seven seconds to play to defeat Auburn 63-62 in the semi-final and in the previous game they also won a nail-biter against Purdue.

Purdue led 70-67 with 17 seconds remaining and 70-68 with seven seconds to go before Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite tied the scores on the buzzer – Virginia clinching the win in overtime 80-75. 

The Virginia centre played a significant role in that win with five points (2/3FG), eight rebounds (five offensive boards), and two steals in 34 minutes.

“To lose last year how we did, and to this year win the championship. Three games were so close, it’s just surreal,” reflected Salt.

Prior to the final Salt had become only the second Kiwi after Kirk Penney (Wisconsin in 1999-2000 season) to play at the NCAA Men’s Division I Tournament Final Four but the victory means he now becomes the first New Zealander to not only play in a National Championship game but also win the title.

In another link with New Zealand Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett cut his coaching teeth in Aotearoa coaching North Harbour Vikings in 1998 after the former NBA guard had played two seasons with the club in the NBL. It was Bennett who recommended a young Kirk Penney to his father Dick, who was head coach at the University of Wisconsin at the time. Penney of course went on to have an illustrious college and professional career.

Back to the man of the moment. In addition to his deeds on the court, Salt has been a high achiever off the court also. He has a degree in anthropology and this year has been studying for a master’s degree in education psychology – his academic achievements seeing him named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Team.

Last year he won the prestigious T. Rodney Crowley Jr Memorial Scholarship for “leadership, sportsmanship, character and integrity.” The scholarship entitles the Aucklander to another year of study at Virginia in the future.

For now he can bask in the glory of a savoured championship victory before turning his attention to a professional career and the prospect of a few more games in the black singlet that he also holds so close to his heart.