Recruiting Strategy Session: Where Does Virginia Basketball Go From Here?

A flurry of activity, including 2019 NBA Draft declarations, a transfer, and a commitment, has resulted in the University of Virginia men’s basketball program going from zero scholarships available for the 2019-20 season to at least three. A fourth could become open depending on another NBA Draft decision.

Just over three weeks ago, Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome were busy leading UVA to its first ever national championship in men’s basketball. Now, all three are chasing their NBA dreams with no intentionss of returning to Charlottesville. Redshirt junior forward Mamadi Diakite’s final decision on staying in the 2019 NBA Draft still looms as well, but for now Virginia is facing five definitive departures from its national championship team – Guy, Hunter, Jerome, redshirt senior center Jack Salt, and seldom-used reserve sophomore guard Marco Anthony, who announced that he is transferring out of the program.

Virginia added a commitment from promising Panther Creek (Cary, N.C.) senior wing Justin McKoy to its class of 2019 this spring. McKoy, a former Penn State signee who earned scholarship offers from NC State and North Carolina soon after reopening his recruitment in March, discussed with what role head coach Tony Bennett wants him to play.

“[Coach Bennett] compared me to De’Andre Hunter,” McKoy wrote in a Twitter message. “We are both in that 6’7”-6’8” range and 225-pound range. We both move well, can handle, can shoot, and can score face up or back to the basket depending on defenders. De’Andre has crazy good defense and that’s where he made himself a lottery pick as well. I can defend multiple positions, but I’m going to work for that defense he has of being able to guard 1-4 and sometimes the 5.”

Factoring in the addition of McKoy and also including Diakite (maybe the fourth time is a charm in terms of not losing a key player to the draft), Virginia has three open scholarship spots available for the 2019-20 season. Below is the projected roster, scholarship players only.

2019-20 Roster Projection

Point Guards (1): Kihei Clark (Soph)

Wings (4): Braxton Key (Sr), Kody Stattmann (Soph), Justin McKoy (Fr), Casey Morsell (Fr)

Posts (5): Mamadi Diakite (R-Sr), Jay Huff (R-Jr), Francesco Badocchi (R-Soph), Francisco Caffaro (R-Fr), Kadin Shedrick (Fr)

Immediate Needs

Experience and depth are concerns with Clark, Key, Diakite and Huff as the only returning players with significant experience on the major college level. There is talent on the way, though, and perhaps some current players will be ready to take a step forward next season. (How Bennett recruits this next month or two could give us an idea of his confidence in current players Francesco Badocchi and Kody Stattmann.)

In the post, a Mamadi return, Jay Huff making a big leap in terms of production and playing time, and the versatile Braxton Key being able to play the 4 gives UVA a solid, albeit thin, post rotation. Badocchi, a rising redshirt sophomore, played in just 11 games this past season, but he could be an Isaiah Wilkins-type at the 4 if he emerges. There is also Argentinian Francisco Caffaro, who redshirted as a freshman last season but could provide quality minutes next year as a Jack Salt-type (but more aggressive and more offensively talented from what I’ve seen), as well as incoming freshman Kadin Shedrick. Shedrick, a consensus 4-star, is 6’11”, 200 pounds and has a lot of potential. The main question on him is strength and if he is physically ready to play next year. (If Diakite leaves, though, Virginia may not have a choice but to play him.)

Penciling in Diakite and Huff as starting posts, Key slides nicely into the starting position at the 3 vacated by Hunter. Behind him, Kody Stattmann remains an unknown, although he showed glimpses of offensive skill in 18 games played last season as a true freshman. This offseason will be important for him to be ready to make a significant contribution next year. Quickness and strength are two areas he needs to improve upon. Then there is McKoy, who displays a talented skill-set for sure. He looks good from a physical standpoint, but how ready will he be to make an immediate impact?

Speaking of a true freshman making an immediate impact, I’m bullish on incoming freshman shooting guard Casey Morsell playing a significant role for Virginia next season. He played against top competition in the WCAC as well as with Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, excelling in both. Physically, he looks ready to compete at the major college level. He plays hard on both sides of the ball. I see the 6’3” 4-star coming in an being ready and able to give Virginia scoring – he can make 3s and is a strong driver to the basket – and defense. Don’t be surprised if he is UVA’s opening game starter at the 2.

UVA currently only has one scholarship point guard projected on its 2019-20 roster, and he is Kihei Clark. Clark overcame a wrist injury to surpass expectations, particularly with his clutch play in the NCAA Tournament. He has some things to improve for sure, but he is tough, savvy, and I expect he’ll take what he learned from his freshman year and improve where needed for the Hoos next season. Problem is, he is Virginia’s only pure point guard, which brings me to the Cavaliers’ top need for next season.

Looking at next year’s roster, I fully expect Bennett to address the backcourt with at least one of the remaining scholarships. Specifically, a guard with plus ballhandling and shooting ability. After all, Guy, Hunter and Jerome combined to average 44.2 points per game in 2018-19, equal to 61.9% of UVA’s total points per game average. The Hoos made 321 3-point field goals in 2018-19. The Big 3 drained 245 of those, with Guy making 3s at a 42.6% clip, Hunter at 43.8%, and Jerome at 39.9%. The rest of the team was 76-of-228, or 33.3%, from 3. In terms of ballhandling and playmaking, Jerome’s loss is huge, as he dished out 202 of UVA’s 544 assists while committing only 61 turnovers this past season. Guy also had significant ballhandling responsibilities, so two of UVA’s three primary ballhandlers last season are gone.

It will be fascinating to see what Coach Bennett does from here and how it impacts not only next season but also 2020 recruiting – the staff has put a lot of work into 2020 and the Hoos already have one commitment, from shooting guard Carson McCorkle.

Where does UVA go from here?

With graduate transfers as well as the high school ranks, these days there are more options than ever for Division 1 men’s basketball programs seeking immediate help during the spring.

On the high school front, there may be some seniors who didn’t sign during the Early Signing Period in November. There may be others who signed or committed but have been de-committed and/or been released from their letter of intent, which is exactly what happened with now UVA-bound Justin McKoy. There are others who may currently be listed as high school juniors but who have enough credits to reclassify and move into the class of 2020.

In terms of transfers, graduate transfers have immediate eligibility. Bennett has utilized this avenue just once in his tenure at Virginia, taking Nigel Johnson in the 2017-18 season. Braxton Key came in as a traditional transfer from Alabama last summer and the NCAA granted his waiver to play immediately. This could be an option as well, I suppose, but it’s less likely.

As mentioned I do see an immediate need in the backcourt for next season. I’d be surprised if Bennett does not add another guard to next year’s roster, perhaps more than one depending on who wants to come.

As of this writing, there are no other high school seniors Virginia is known to be heavily pursuing. The Hoos offered guard Harlond Beverly during the season; however, UVA gained no traction and he ultimately committed to Miami. There is an interesting development in terms of high school juniors reclassifying to enroll in college this summer, though.

Five-star guard Johnny Juzang of Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, CA), who is 6’7”, 205 pounds, would be the absolute perfect fit for what Virginia needs with his shooting and ballhandling ability. His coach, Dave Rebibo, described him last fall as “a great student and a great student of the game. He’s the complete package as a person. As a basketball player, he’s relentless. He works really hard in practice. He’s incredibly talented. He can impact the game in so many ways, not just shooting. He’s versatile with the ball. He makes plays with the ball. He just does a great job.”

Juzang tweeted that he will make a “big announcement” today (April 24) at 7:30 p.m. ET. Most expect him to announce that he is reclassifying from the class of 2020 to the class of 2019. The California native recently picked up a scholarship offer from Kentucky after meeting with head coach John Calipari and staff. Stanford, Villanova, Virginia and many others are vying for his services as well. Juzang took an official visit to UVA last October and came away impressed.

“Coach Bennett’s message was kind of like coming in and being held to a high standard, being pushed to reach your potential day in and day out, developing and making sure you are getting better, working in the weight room, being a leader on the court,” Juzang recalled in an interview with following his official visit. “[Coach Bennett] coached Klay Thompson and he pointed out my similarities with him and Joe Harris, guys like that. He showed me the similarities there. He made it clear he is a big fan of my game. I like the way he thinks. He likes the way I think.”

Juzang would be a phenomenal get for Virginia regardless of class, but especially for this coming year with the departures that have taken place. He certainly could make an immediate and strong impact, helping to sure up the scoring and ballhandling for the Hoos next season. Whether or not Virginia can land him is the bigger matter.

(UPDATE: Juzang announced that he is reclassifying from the class of 2020 to the class of 2019. A college decision, he adds, “will be made in the next few weeks.”)

Should UVA miss out on Juzang, the graduate transfer market seems like a good fit. The experience and maturity of a graduate transfer could help, in addition to bolstering Virginia’s depth with another quality perimeter player. Again, depending on who wants to come, Coach Bennett could look to add multiple more players for next season to go along with the projected numbers. The Hoos just haven’t been mentioned with many other high schoolers out of Juzang. Virginia also hasn’t been mentioned with many grad-transfers at this time. One they were mentioned with, Utah Valley’s Jake Toolson, is transferring to BYU.

Another possibility with the open scholarships is adding a traditional transfer who could sit one year and be ready to play in 2020-21. Or how about two, as is the possibility with Sam and Joey Hauser, brothers who played for Marquette this past season. Virginia offered and heavily recruited both out of Stevens Point Area High School in Wisconsin. Sam, who just finished his junior year of college, took an official visit to UVA before casting his lot with Marquette. UVA didn’t get quite as close with the younger Hauser, who redshirted in his first year at Marquette before playing this past season.

Per Mark Miller of Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook, the Hauser brothers are scheduled to visit Wisconsin this weekend, Michigan State the next weekend, and UVA the weekend of May 17-19. Sam, a 6’8” guard/forward with elite 3-point shooting ability, and Joey, a 6’9”, 230-pound stretch 4, will have to redshirt wherever they go. Sam would have one year of eligibility remaining beginning in 2020-21, while Joey would have two years of eligibility remaining after a redshirt year (unless the NCAA awards him a medical redshirt for his first year at Marquette. He graduated high school in December and enrolled at Marquette in January of 2018, but he sat out with an ankle injury.).

Should UVA land the Hauser brothers, they would take up two scholarships in 2019-20. Virginia would then have only one scholarship available for next season, unless Diakite turns pro. I think it’s a plus that UVA is hosting them May 17-19, as it gives Bennett and company some more time to sort out possible options for next year. The downside is that they are visiting Wisconsin and Michigan State first and could decide to end the process sooner.

If the Cavaliers and the Hausers don’t work out, UVA could still work the regular transfer market to fill a need for 2020.

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