Since the season ended abruptly, many of the Virginia basketball players haven’t been shy with their thoughts about teammate Sam Hauser. They haven’t been conservative either. They have been consistent, though.
Whether it has been departing seniors like Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key or a player with eligibility remaining like Jay Huff, the Hoos clearly believe in Hauser. Diakite confidently predicted an All-ACC caliber year, while Key and Huff simply chuckled and said he doesn’t seem to miss shots. They all think the Marquette transfer, who practiced against them all season on the scout team, will step forward with a big year for the Cavaliers.
Hauser accepted those remarks when relayed by reporters as a blessing, but isn’t focused on living up to the offseason billing.
“That means I was doing my job well on the scout team,” Hauser said. “I drew those two a lot in the matchups so I was able to compete against them pretty much on a daily basis. But, you know, expectations are a privilege. I’m not saying I have to live up to any expectations because I have my own expectations for myself. I’m just looking forward to going in and taking each day as its own entity and taking it one game at a time. I’m not really looking past or looking behind.”
Of course, it’s not like Hauser is an unknown commodity. Coming out of high school, he was a consensus top 100 recruit. He transferred to UVA last spring with only one year of eligibility remaining after three strong years with the Golden Eagles. Over three seasons, he started 97 of 101 games – the four non-starts came early in his freshman year. As a sophomore and junior, he averaged better than 14.0 points per game, including 14.9 points in his final year there. He posted 7.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists too while carrying 32.4 minutes per game.
Those numbers included double-digit scoring in 28 of 34 games as a junior and six double-doubles, including Marquette’s NCAA Tournament game against Murray State when he had 16 points and 10 rebounds. For the season, he shot 45.9% overall, 40.2% from 3-point range, and 92.4% from the free throw line. He earned second team All-Big East honors.
The even better news category: Hauser thinks he got better this past season while sitting out the rule-mandated redshirt year for transfers.
“I think this year was great for me and the team,” Hauser said. “I think I got a lot better throughout the year redshirting. It was really good to have a year to get a feel for the system and what it’s like at Virginia compared to where I came from.”
It’s easy to pinpoint why Hauser might feel that way. He faced Virginia’s vaunted defense every day. UVA ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency and scoring defense this season, allowing a paltry 0.841 points per possession and 52.4 points per game. Individually on the front line, Huff led the nation with a defensive rating of 82.2, Diakite checked in at 85.1, and Key rounded it out at 84.2.
As a 6’8” combo forward, Hauser frequently matched up with Diakite and Key in practices this past season. Diakite, of course, earned second team All-ACC and All-ACC Defensive Team honors. He’s showing up in some NBA mock drafts as well. Key claimed honorable mention All-ACC recognition as well. Even for a guy with a proven college resume and scoring ability, that’s a daily challenge worth its weight in iron.
Plus, Hauser got to watch them apply that craft against other teams with a front row seat at games.
“Those guys are very good players,” Hauser said. “I think it really showed on the defensive end. I think those guys are very active on that end. You have to be in this defense. You’ve got to be able to cover for others and guard your position at the same time. I think both of those guys did a really good job and obviously losing those two leaves a really big hole on the defensive end for the guys on this coming year’s team. I learned a lot from them and I hope I can fill that void.”
Hauser, like college athletes across the nation, is missing the opportunity for individual workouts and strength sessions to work on the demands of UVA’s defense right now. The NCAA and ACC cancelled all spring sports due to the coronavirus pandemic that has forced sports to shut down this spring. Hauser is back home in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where snow was on the ground again this month. That all means he has to improvise and do the best he can with offseason workouts and preparation as possible.
Fortunately, he’s got a good sparring partner and workout buddy. His brother Joey Hauser shared the court with him at Marquette before transferring to Michigan State last spring. The two of them have gotten driveway workouts and games in, while also setting up a home gym. They had a former high school janitor and body builder to help in that regard as he allowed them to pick up dumbbells and a squat rack to put at their house. The brothers are also working on trick shots inside and outside of the house, while Sam is also sitting down at the piano again to pass time too.
What are you doing during your quarantine? pic.twitter.com/hnCvO8c2rD
— Joey Hauser (@jjhouz24) April 11, 2020
Hauser did get a chance to have the individual workouts last offseason so he has at least started to learn the nuances and can try to apply those things.
“I think throughout the summer and preseason workouts, it was a little bit of an adjustment just because where I was at we didn’t play that type of defense so there’s definitely a little bit of a learning curve,” Hauser said. “But I feel like I’ve gotten the hang of it a little bit. Being on the scout team, you don’t get many reps on the defensive end playing our defense so there will still be a little bit of learning for me to do.”
One thing that translates regardless of whether it is the driveway or a gym, however, is the ability to shoot the ball. That’s what caught his teammates attention so often in practice battles. Huff grinned and called it annoying that Hauser hardly missed shots on the scout team. The shooting percentages at Marquette back that up. He never made fewer than 63 triples in a season and never shot below 40.2% from 3-point range either. He put up an absurd 48.7% clip as a sophomore. That wasn’t a low volume number either – he made 95 of of 195 long-range attempts that season.
Given that Hauser also possesses a mid-post game inside the arc and that the Cavaliers put a premium on getting players good shots in the right spots, he should be an obvious scoring threat in his only year on the floor at Virginia.
Much like the praise from teammates, Hauser toned things down in his self scouting report.
“I think I’m labeled as a shooter – I can shoot the ball pretty well,” Hauser said. “I use that to my advantage. I have a pretty good mid-post game. On the defensive end, I hold my own. I do what I’m told. I’m going to play hard. I like to rebound. I just try to make the money plays when it matters.”
In fact, Hauser seemed just as excited to talk about his teammates for the upcoming season as his own game. He said he thinks people might be sleeping on Justin McKoy, a 6’8” true freshman that appeared in 14 games last season. The duo spent some time on the scout team together.
Plus, he’s excited to see what point guard Kihei Clark can do after putting together a third team All-ACC season as a sophomore. Clark averaged 10.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. That assist average placed Clark third in the ACC and he also ranked ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7). That part of the Californian’s game is obviously exciting for a scorer like Hauser, who said he expects Clark to make a big jump again next season.
“I’m really excited to play with Kihei,” Hauser said. “He showed a lot this year. Stepping into a completely new role, I think he handled it perfectly. He had a couple of bumps early in the season, but you saw as the year progressed he just got better and better and better. He’s a true point guard. I think we’re going to work really well together. He knows when to get you the ball when you’re open and he knows how to create for others. I’m excited for that.”