Virginia sophomore Kody Stattmann almost nonchalantly rattled them off last month at the John Paul Jones Arena. Injury after injury challenged him through mid-January, but he calmly chalked it up to just being part of doing business if you’re an athlete.
Maybe, maybe not. Here’s the list of things that Stattmann worked through this season as he became a rotation player for the first time in his career: illness, concussion, broken nose, and back problems. The first two cost him six combined games, while the latter too were a nuisance at the very least.
“It happens in sports. That’s what comes with it,” Stattmann said the week of the ACC Tournament. “So you just have to mentally be prepared for that type of stuff and since we’ve got the best guys, Ethan [Saliba] and Mike Curtis, to look after us, we know we’re going to be fine.”
The illness came in November and he missed four games around the Thanksgiving time period when he lost some weight while not doing much for two weeks. The back problems flared up periodically at different times. The concussion and broken nose, meanwhile, were actually a combo job. That came courtesy of freshman Casey Morsell in a practice drill, not even a scrimmage situation. Stattmann had to have his nose reset and had a small nose cast for three days. The injury didn’t require a mask so once he tried it, he quickly discarded it.
“It was in practice,” Stattmann said. “Me and Casey had a head clash and he got me in the nose. I broke my nose and had to get it realigned and that’s how I got my concussion.”
Morsell actually took quite a blow from that crash too, though not as bad as Stattmann. It’s simply an individual defensive drill where one player guards the other.
“We have this one one one drill, it’s like a defensive drill,” Morsell said. “He crossed and I tried to cut him off and it was a head-on collision, literally. I had a big knot in my head and he had a broken nose. It was a mess that day. There was blood on the court. It was all over. It was a mess.”
And did the Hoos do that drill anymore this season? “We completely erased that drill as part of our practice,” Morsell said smiling.
All told, Stattman missed six games between the November illness and the two games after that head clash. He had started 10 games early in the year, but settled into a bench reserve spot once that happened. He averaged 3.6 points and 2.4 rebounds with 16 assists, 10 blocked shots, and 9 steals in 24 games. He shot 33.7% for the season, including 26.9% from 3-point range.
That’s the part that hasn’t lived up to the pre-UVA billing. Stattmann averaged 31 points to the lead the Australian U17 team to a gold medal at the 2017 FIBA Oceania Championships in Guam. During his first year at Virginia last season, Kyle Guy raved about his shooting. In his his first extended time this season, however, the shooting numbers didn’t show up.
“I think I’m not where I’m supposed to be at, especially coming into UVA because that was like my strongest point in my game,” Stattmann said. “It comes with confidence as well and getting the right shot for me I guess.”
As the ACC Tournament approached for the Hoos last month prior to the sports shutdown nationwide, Stattmann finally felt like he had rediscovered his footing again, though. He had shaken off the various challenges through mid-January and settled in late in the season. He cut back his volume from behind the arc – the “right shot” part of the puzzle perhaps – and got more accurate too. He knocked down 6 of the 14 3-pointers he made this season after Feb. 1. In the final 10 games of the regular season, he connected on 6 of 11 triples for a 54.5% clip in February and March.
In his case, there wasn’t really an adjustment to the longer 3-point line as a potential reason for the slow start. The FIBA games already used that distance. Stattmann pointed to added practice and growing comfort as an explanation for the late season surge.
“I’ve been working on it more, like shooting with a quick release because my release is a bit slow,” Stattmann said. “Just practicing it more after practice and getting more shots up in practice. Also because I’m not shooting it as much, I think my percentages have gone up that way but also just because I’ve been practicing it more and feeling a bit more comfortable with it.”
Settling into roles and the challenges of ACC basketball seemed to be a recurring theme in a way for this year’s roster. Morsell, who didn’t miss any games after that head-on collision with Stattmann, described a similar growth period with the demands of Virginia’s defense as a true freshman. The Pack-Line defense always frustrates opponents, but for it to produce its best results, all the players have to work in concert.
UVA coach Tony Bennett, as Wahoo fans know, insists on a consistent effort on that end of the floor. The buzz word he uses for that is continuous, meaning the individual and team effort to string together multiple defensive sequences on every possession. Morsell’s defense experienced some of the expected ups and downs for a freshman, but it was good enough to earn long stretches of playing time at different points in the year.
He grinned a bit recalling the journey on defense as a freshman.
“I remember when I first got here, I didn’t really have it all figured out but I was continuous,” Morsell said the week of the ACC Tournament. “I was literally running all over the place, but I knew I was in the pack so I must be somewhere right. Yeah, staying continuous and having multiple efforts is definitely a huge part of the defense. Just knowing that if you get beat, there’s help behind you so don’t shade one way or don’t alter your stance in any kind of way because no matter what there’s help behind you and guys behind you have your back.”
On the other side of the floor, the flashes were much more spread out as he couldn’t find the consistency that he was used to prior to his arrival at UVA. He averaged 17.0 points per game as a senior at St. John’s in the always competitive Washington Athletic Catholic Conference. He had some big performances with 19 points against Arizona State, 10 on the road at UNC, and 10 at home against Navy. Overall, Morsell started 13 games and averaged 4.0 points per game.
Morsell said he had grown a lot from the challenges on offense throughout the season, though.
“I think I’ve actually grown a lot as a basketball player, as a person,” Morsell said. “I feel like I’ve never faced adversity to this magnitude before, in terms of my shots aren’t falling. Just trying to figure other ways out to make an impact on the game. That’s why I think I’ve grown. I felt like I’ve always been able to score, always been able to do this and that – now that hasn’t been going my way each game, I feel like I’ve got to figure out other ways to make a difference. That’s why I feel like I’ve grown. I know other ways now to impact the game as opposed to just scoring.”
Hair Raises Questions
During the season, Virginia guard Tomas Woldetensae went from a standing hair style to locked down braids and back and that naturally caught fan attention. Being superstitious like fans can be, many Hoo supporters tied his mid-season surge to the braids. He hit the game-winning shot at North Carolina with his hair down, for example, and there was a stretch in January where he buried 20 triples in three road games – 7 at Wake, 7 at Louisville, and 6 at UNC – all with his hair down.
Prior to the ACC Tournament, Woldetensae said he just didn’t want his hair in braids still so that’s why he changed.
“I got to here with the crazy hair styles and I understand how you try to give a reason to changes in life, but it’s just part of it. I understand fans saying it,” Woldetensae said smiling. “I don’t want to get braided because it pulls my hair. That’s the reason. No other reason.”
Speaking of Woldetensae, he’s put together quite a series of social media videos with teammate Grant Kersey. When the season was cancelled and the University closed to move to online classes, Woldetensae moved in with the Kersey family because he cannot go home to Italy due to the coronavirus situation there.
Check out some of the creations coming out of the driveway from that duo.
— Grant Kersey (@WhiteMamba_GK20) April 13, 2020
— Grant Kersey (@WhiteMamba_GK20) March 21, 2020
— Grant Kersey (@WhiteMamba_GK20) March 19, 2020