The last time the Virginia basketball team faced off on the court was in March. The 2019-2020 season was halted due to the coronavirus and players have been craving playing time ever since. For redshirt Senior Sam Hauser, the wait has been even longer.
Hauser sat out last season due to NCAA eligibility rules after transferring from Marquette. There he averaged 14.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game as a junior. He also shot 40.2% from behind the arc. That shooting number is why Hauser is known for his shooting. In his offseason though, he focused on his defense to become a well-rounded player.
“I hope I can show everyone that I’ve gotten better and I’ve improved, and hopefully I’m more than a shooter that I’m labeled as,” Hauser said. “I’ve taken that personally, and I’m just really excited to showcase it.”
The Wisconsin native played at Marquette with his younger brother Joey Hauser. The duo reunited during quarantine and played each other in pick-up games over the break. The talent in the Steven’s Point household pushed Sam to improve every day. Joey now plays at Michigan State and the two will face off in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge this year. That game is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 9 in Charlottesville.
“I’ve never played against my brother,” Hauser said. “We’ve always been on the same team, so the parents are excited, the whole family is excited. I’m curious to see who they’re going to cheer for or where they’re going to in the stands.”
At 6’8”, Hauser’s height will be necessary to fill the voids of Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key. The two were essential contributors on the defensive side of the court. They both helped show Hauser the intensity of ACC ball. Hauser frequently matched up against the duo in practice.
“Just going against those guys really got me better, and I hope I got them better as well,” said Hauser. “I’m a competitor, I like to compete, and going against those guys was really fun last year.”
Hauser also credits his refined defensive skills to coach Mike Curtis and coach Tony Bennett. Virginia is renowned for its Pack Line scheme, and Hauser took personal time to keep up with it.
“The coaches hold you to a really high standard on that end,” Hauser said. “If you make one little mistake, they’re going to get on you, but I think it’s good and it gets you better, and it makes you not want to let them down, so you’re going to play even harder on defense.”
Hauser’s efforts have already been recognized. He was named to the Julius Erving Watch List. Only 20 were recognized for the award. Hauser was also named first-team preseason All-ACC, and received the second highest number of votes for preseason ACC Player of the Year.
“I try not to buy into the outside expectations, so I just kind of stick to what the coaches want for me and what I want for myself,” Hauser said. “But it’s cool to get some recognition.”
UVA’s Kihei Clark was also recognized. He was named to second-team preseason All-ACC. Virginia was chosen to finish first in the ACC in the Preseason Poll. The Cavaliers also ranked No. 4 in the first Associated Press Poll for the 2020-21 season. And don’t forget, Virginia is still technically the reigning National Champion since the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled.
This year and the team look quite different though, and not just because of COVID-19 regulations.
“I think this group had a lot of guys on that team from last year and they showed what they really can do, and I hope we can build off that,” Hauser said. “Obviously, we lost a couple really key guys, and they played really good defense and were really key contributors to our team last year, but hopefully we can fill the shoes of those guys, because they’re big shoes to fill.”
UVA ended last season with an eight-game winning streak. The Hoos finished strong, even without knowing it would be the end of the season. However, it took a while for them to get into that high intensity, productive groove, and that could be the case again this year with a different lineup. The Cavaliers are going to have to step up if they want to keep their title.
“I can see we don’t have replacements for them,” Bennett said. “Sam has the ability to play some four, perhaps some three. With Jay [Huff], you can space the floor on offense with some shooting and let some of your perimeter guys touch the paint. So, there’s some advantages to this year’s team and differences.”
Hauser will be a key difference to the team this season. He is clearly ready for the year ahead, no matter the obstacles of COVID-19. His efforts in the offseason and his redshirt season should off. It’s his tenacious mindset that could give the Hoos as a whole an unexpected edge this year.
“I didn’t really take the off year lightly,” said Hauser. “I really wanted to get better and perfecting my craft and getting better at things I needed to. And I’m just really excited to get back on the floor. I miss competing, I miss that adrenaline drive. Being on a team and playing for one common goal, that’s the best part of basketball.”