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Anthony Gill brings "joy" -- and lots of jokes -- to Virginia's journey

CHICAGO -- Sometimes there's a man. He's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's Anthony Gill, at a news conference with his teammates 24 hours before a massively important, potentially historic, ostensibly nerve-wracking game, being asked -- for the second time in 15 minutes -- to compare his coach to George Clooney.

"You know, I'm not sure," Gill deadpanned Thursday. "But if somebody was going to play my life in a movie -- if that's what you're asking me, and that's what I got out of the question -- I would pretty much go with Denzel Washington, Will Smith and, um, any other mainstream actor that girls love."

It is hardly a stretch to say Friday's Sweet 16 game against Iowa State brings with it the highest stakes, and thus the most pressure, of any in recent Virginia hoops history. Not only is there a title out there to be won, this is the next, latest culmination of the program's best three-year run since Ralph Sampson was on campus, an 88-18 romp comprising two ACC titles and two No. 1 seeds. It is the path to the program's first Elite Eight since 1995. It is the bridge between remarkable regular-season success and NCAA tournament disappointment.

It is Malcolm Brogdon's last go. It is Gill's, too. It's all very, very serious stuff.

Not on Gill's watch.

"He's always trying to be lighthearted," guard London Perrantes said. "We love him for that. Although it can be outrageous, but that's just him."

For years, Gill has been one of the sport's best, most efficient and most tireless interior players. He is also a legendary locker-room comic. The stories and pranks number in the dozens by now. The nonexistent two-headed Siamese cat. That magic thing, when Gill successfully convinced a reporter he was getting "into magic in his spare time," nearly prompting the reporter to write a feature. The "onion story."

"That one's true," Perrantes said Thursday, as Brogdon ducked his head into his chest. "That's not a fable."

There's more than jokes here, though: Gill's goofball contributions off the court mirror the importance of his work on the floor. Brogdon is the team's undisputed star and the distillation of everything Tony Bennett has built at UVa. He is both the ACC's player of the year and defensive player of the year and a master's candidate in public policy. His teammates call him "president." He is freakishly focused.

It is not hard to imagine a team led by a guy like that -- the guy in your class smart enough to ace the test without trying, who studies like a maniac anyway -- occasionally needing a laugh.

"[It's] joy in the journey with him," Bennett said of Gill, the guy who provides that laugh. "He has great joy inside of his heart and in his being. ... And that overflows to his teammates and his coaches."

That journey has already brought UVa to the cusp of a 20-year tournament milestone; it might take the Cavaliers further yet. Wherever it takes them next -- and however much pressure accrues along the way -- Gill will be keeping things light.