As Virginia’s appearance in the 2017 NCAA Tournament wound down, the weekend in Orlando left the same lingering feeling both internally and externally. Something was still missing.
A year removed from an Elite Eight exit, the Hoos had just bowed out in the second round courtesy of a 65-39 destruction at the hands of Florida. Shortly after that result, UVA coach Tony Bennett sat with reporters and summed up the day in two ways. One, he said, “I’ve got to go back to the drawing board” and two, he said, “You know, there’s a gap – we’ve got to improve our program.”
Part of the answer, the missing link if you will between Bennett’s early years at Virginia and the future, sat and watched the demolition in Orlando. Redshirt freshman De’Andre Hunter would help close the gap and eventually help raise the program to the highest height of the 2019 National Championship. At 6’7” with inside and outside pieces to his game and the ability to create his own shot, Hunter represented something the Hoos didn’t really have in Orlando – he could go get a bucket.
If you look back at that 2016-2017 roster, UVA didn’t have that wing forward prototype available. The other 6’7” players Jarred Reuter and Isaiah Wilkins had some limitations offensively against the nation’s upper tier defenses. Wilkins, of course, battled an illness at the end of that season and did not play against Florida either. Mamadi Diakite, the other 6’7” to 6’9” versatile forward type, started for the first time that day against...
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