Barry Parkhill was at a recent Virginia men’s lacrosse game at Klöckner Stadium when it hit him. He swung his head in the direction of University Hall, the building he once called home, and saw mostly open space.

Parkhill, Virginia’s associate athletic director for development and a Cavaliers men’s basketball player from 1970-1973, was walking past U-Hall a few days later and felt compelled to whip out his cell phone. He shot a video of the construction site and sent it to some of his old teammates.

“This building is going to disappear soon,” Parkhill recalled later during a phone interview.

The demolition of U-Hall is nearly complete, with the final implosion of the structure scheduled for Saturday. As that date approaches, former Virginia men’s basketball players are reflecting on the building where the program first reached national prominence.

“It’s bittersweet,” Parkhill said. “U-Hall was a tremendous home floor for many decades.”

Opened in 1965 to replace Memorial Gym, the program’s previous home, U-Hall served as the epicenter for a men’s basketball team hungry for more. That was never more clear than during the recruitment of Ralph Sampson.

Sampson was a sought after player, and on the night before his official visit, a pack of Virginia fans scaled University Hall and painted the roof: “Ralph’s House.” The Harrisonburg native saw the message as he flew over the building, and he went to become the most famous player in Virginia basketball history.

Sampson said he snapped a photo of his one of his three Naismith College Player of the Year awards in the U-Hall lobby on a recent visit.

“Memories start to come up,” he said. “It’s like watching someone pass away, like a death in your family.”

Sampson, the No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA Draft, said he’ll remember most the camaraderie the building created among all Virginia athletes. He developed friendships with UVa football players, track athletes, tennis players and more, all of whom worked out in the building alongside the men’s basketball team.

“We went to football games, baseball games, lacrosse games, because we knew the players,” Sampson added. “It’s not that way [now].”

Wally Walker, a Virginia player from 1972-76, has fond memories of the circular building topped with the white dome. He appreciated how close fans were to the court and how the arena’s structure lent itself well to shooting. In big arenas, Walker said, it can be hard to get into a shooting rhythm given the enormity of the building.

“When [Coach Terry] Holland came in, we ran those steps thousands of times, from bottom to top,” Walker said.

They also ran the building’s circumference on a slab of cement between the upper and lower bowls, and were often joined by locals.

“It was a common workout place,” Walker said. “It was one of the few places you could [exercise] indoors.”

On game days, those same people would sit in the stands and watch Virginia fight for a spot among the nation’s elite. That process was accelerated when Sampson came to Charlottesville. Virginia won the National Invitation Tournament in 1980, then the Cavaliers reached to their first Final Four in 1981. Virginia made another Final Four appearance in 1984, with Sampson playing in the NBA for the Houston Rockets.

As the years went on, and rival ACC programs built more and more impressive facilities, U-Hall lost some of its luster, and it became clear Virginia would need a new building to take the next step. John Paul Jones Arena opened as the home for Virginia women’s and men’s basketball in 2006.

But U-Hall never became less magical for the players who spent their college years there. Parkhill remembers the locker rooms. In high school, he said, he was merely given a basket for his clothes and sneakers.

He spent the 1969-70 season on Virginia’s freshman team, whose locker room had tall, metal lockers with combination locks. The next season he graduated to the varsity locker room, which was mostly the same except for one thing: The floors had carpet.

“I thought University Hall was the Taj Mahal,” he said.

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