Virginia basketball freshman Justin McKoy played in 13 games the first half of the 2019-20 season. This included double-digit-minute outings against Maine, Purdue, and North Carolina. The 6’8”, 221-pound forward’s playing time was almost non-existent in the second half of UVA’s season, though, as he saw the court once – four minutes in a win over Wake Forest on January 26 – in the final 15 contests.
The Cary (N.C.) native maintained a positive attitude while his team thrived the latter half of 2019-20, when the Cavaliers won 13 of 15 games – including the final eight matchups of the year – to finish 23-7 overall and 15-5 in the ACC. There apparently had been rumors that McKoy may transfer because of the lack of playing time, but he put an end to those rumors on Friday (March 13).
Not a big fan of this but felt the need to say it. To all the wahoos wondering if I’ll transfer… Im not going anywhere. I know I didn’t play a lot this second half of the season but we had 2 really good senior forwards this year. I learned and improved… A LOT. #Hoos
— Justin McKoy (@justintmckoy) March 13, 2020
TheSabre.com caught up with McKoy at Virginia basketball’s media day on Monday of this week. There, he discussed his role, head coach Tony Bennett, and learning under seniors Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key, who unfortunately have played their final games in a Virginia uniform.
CHECKING IN WITH JUSTIN MCKOY
What do you think was the biggest reason for the team’s success the latter half of the season?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “I think just the team getting used to everything in the way we play. I think a lot of it is feel. We haven’t changed anything we’ve done in practice. We haven’t changed anything within ourselves. We’ve done the same stuff. I think just being consistent ended up helping us being able to get to where we are.”
This Virginia team showed a lot of character in gutting out so many wins despite their offensive struggles. What have you noticed as far as the toughness of this team?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “I think it’s all about who they recruit. Our coaches set that foundation and get guys like that. Some guys may not be totally on the same page as that, but they become that because of who is around them. I think a lot of guys here are tough. A lot of them are strong-willed. They all have that same nice character that Coach Bennett likes and shows within himself.”
I’m sure you haven’t received the playing time you were hoping for, but what can you take from this season and build on towards next year?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “I think the future’s very hopeful in the sense that there’s two guys leaving that are really, really good that play my position. It’s hard to be happy with the situation I’m in now, but at the same time it’s easy knowing I’m getting better. I’ve seen a lot of improvement in my game. I think if you take me from when I first got here to me now, I think there’s no question I’m 10 times better. Without a doubt. I think it’s just part of growing and maturing. I think it’s teaching me patience, so that’s a good thing.”
How much support have you received from the upperclassmen – especially those who have gone through similar situations – in terms of trying to help you stay positive?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “They all talk to me and Jay and Mamadi are great examples. Mamadi, even last year, wasn’t a huge, huge part of the rotation like he is now. Now I think he’s playing I’d guess like upper 30 minutes. That’s really good and I think it’s hopeful and it’s reassuring. At the same time, just knowing that I’m getting better. I think that’s the main thing to focus on. That’s what gets me through most of it a lot. And just being excited for my teammates because I want to see them succeed more than I want to see myself succeed right now.”
How has Coach Bennett been in terms of helping you stay positive while not seeing a lot of playing time?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “To me he’s been the best. He’s been the best coach. He’s coaching a team. He’s making the tournament. He’s getting a top seed in the ACC, but he’s also talking to guys who aren’t playing a lot, encouraging them, and also just reassuring me that I’m going to be fine and I’m doing really well but also telling me what I need to work on. He’s doing all parts of his job as a coach and it’s just awesome. I know a lot of coaches don’t sometimes.”
How would you describe the camaraderie among the first-year players?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “Those are my guys (McKoy smiles). We have a lot of fun. We have a lot of laughs. Those guys want to get better too, so it’s really fun just being around a group of guys that are similar to you.”
Since you are both North Carolina guys … Did you know Kadin Shedrick before arriving at UVA?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “I’ve known him for a while and, yeah, cool guy. We grew up in the same city and played for the same travel team when we were younger. When I first started playing basketball, it was on his team, but then he started playing baseball.”
Was it helpful coming here with someone you knew beforehand and is going through the same situation you are?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “Not only that, but it’s like a reminder of home. To have someone else from the same place, that’s cool.”
You said you feel like you’ve gotten better. What areas have you improved the most since you arrived here?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “Defense for sure. Defense is getting way better. I love it (smiles). It’s fun. Sometimes people describe me as like a dog on the court, just all over the place and doing whatever. I think being a relentless defender would be an awesome part to add to that. And shooting. I’m shooting the ball really well in practice. Hasn’t really translated to the game much. Haven’t seen much time right now, but I’m feeling really confident, feeling ready to display that.”
What do you think your future may be here position-wise?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “That’s up to Coach Bennett and what he thinks is best for the team. Whatever he says goes. I am very versatile. I’ll play wherever I need to play, whether it’s the 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. It doesn’t matter. Obviously we have a great guard in Kihei, but I’ll play whatever. I’ll do whatever we need to do to win. I like to sharpen all aspects of my game, just be ready for anything.”
What will be the main areas of your game you will focus this offseason?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “I talk to Coach Bennett a little bit here and there and we’ll talk at the end of the season definitely, but I think just keep improving defense, keep getting comfortable on the offensive end, and being a big defensive rebounder. We’re losing Braxton and Mamadi. Those are two big rebounders. We’ll still have Jay. We’re adding Sam. Kadin will be in the mix. We’ll have Francisco. I think just adding more defensive rebounding will help a lot.”
Virginia’s frontcourt includes some versatile players with different skillsets. What’s it like competing against them in practice?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “It’s fun (McKoy smiles). It’s a lot of fun. We go at each other a lot. I get matched up more with Sam and Braxton and the other guys who are bigger match up with each other, but it’s a lot of fun to compete against them.”
I can see the difference in Kadin’s physique in the seven or eight months he has been here. I can see your physique has changed since the preseason as well. Working with Mike Curtis, how have you changed/improved from a physical standpoint? What’s it like working with Coach Curtis?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “Being a fan of the sports med-type area, I’m fascinated with it. I think he’s the best in the game. Kadin’s on a different plan than me. He’s trying to gain weight and he has. He’s been getting a lot stronger and you can see that when he plays. Me, I’ve actually lost weight. I’ve lost 12, 13 pounds since I’ve been here. I lost like 4% body fat, but I’ve gained a lot of muscle and gotten stronger in every aspect. I’m also able to jump a little higher, too, so that’s really nice. It’s been amazing. It’s a lot of hard work.”
How is your first year going from an academic standpoint?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “It’s really good. Making pretty good grades … I think I finished the fall semester with a 3.4. I like my professors. I like the students here. It’s awesome.”
Do you know what you want to major in?
JUSTIN MCKOY: “Kinesiology or History. I’m a fan of history and a fan of sports medicine.”