It’s April, and with or without the college basketball shutdown, it’s still basketball recruiting season. It’s just going to look a lot different this year. Why? Well, the NCAA has banned in-person recruiting at least through the end of May. We also have no idea when (or even if) we’ll see the grassroots travel circuit start up this summer; those live sessions were the critical opportunity for coaches to scout high school players. What that means is that there’s a big advantage to recruit-school relationships that predate the shutdown, since now it’s harder than it’s ever been for coaches to discover someone new they will want to pursue, and players won’t have an opportunity to get to know a coach or school the way they used to.
This new reality may also change players’ comfort levels towards playing far from home, some kids maybe preferring to stay within driving distance of their families.
Along those lines, I sort of suspect that the NCAA may allow players to transfer “back home” without a redshirt penalty this summer as a one-time thing, respecting that a player across the country from his family will be dealing with a unique homesickness. The NCAA is looking, however, like it won’t pass an elimination of the sit-out transfer rule to go into effect this summer; if it passes this year, it’ll go into effect next summer instead. So when evaluating non-grad-transfers, ask yourself if the player is “coming home” or not before guessing at their eligibility for this coming season.
What does it mean for UVA? We’re about to find out. There are a number of players out there, both of the high school and the transfer variety.
Let’s start by looking at recruiting guys who could play right away and contribute as a part of the 2020-21 season this fall.
As always, let’s look at our scholarship matrix (key: green = high confidence, yellow = some questions, and red = likely developmental year… it’s all subjective and just conservative guesswork, so please don’t get too hung up on the color coding).
At the moment, we have 12 of our NCAA-limited-13 scholarships assigned. Could attrition happen? Always possible, though we’re not hearing any rumors. The only thing I’d watch out for is international players feeling a little extra homesickness given the COVID crisis, which of course could hit anytime between now and fall if it happens at all. For reference, that could affect big man Francsico Caffaro (Argentina), and wings Kody Stattmann (Australia) and Tomas Woldetensae (Italy). Again, not predicting anything, just acknowledging that the small degree of uncertainty exists.
(As an aside, I know Jay Huff’s submitted some preliminary paperwork to the NBA, but while not impossible, we’d be surprised if he does anything more than just get good feedback to improve his game for the draft in 2021.)
Couple that with the struggles of some of our returning guards this past season (even Woldetensae, for all his highlights, still struggled mightily with game-to-game consistency), and the usual steep learning curves for freshmen at UVA (oh, and did we mention both Abdur-Rahim and McCorkle are coming off lower-extremity surgeries last year?), and there’s a very real reason to think some extra competition on the wings next season may not be a bad thing.
That means UVA could be in the market for a shooting guard or small forward type. A few names have already emerged. 2020 recruits JaDun Michael (4 star forward out of North Carolina) and Brandon Murray (3 star guard out of Baltimore) have both crossed the UVA radar this spring. Michael, who decommitted from Wichita State this spring, picked up a lot of ACC interest, including UVA’s, before ultimately settling on Elon this week. UVA never seemed to go all in on Murray (he may yet end up elsewhere in the ACC), but UVA’s evaluations were telling about where their heads were at.
No other graduating high school seniors are on the radar at the moment. Four star power forward Will Jeffress out of Pennsylvania seemed to have some interest in UVA earlier this year, but that seems to have gone cool, and he’ll probably end up at Pitt.
That means we turn our attention to transfers. The Seth Towns transfer recruitment came and went (he went home to Ohio to be a Buckeye) despite some UVA involvement with the Harvard forward. The two names to know now are the Treys: Trey Murphy and Trey Wertz. Both are from North Carolina, both had some UVA interest when they came out of high school in the 2018 class, and both are now across the country (Rice and Santa Clara, respectively) arguably looking to get closer to home.
Now, under normal circumstances, both would likely be sit-1-play-2 guys. But as mentioned previously, I wouldn’t be at all shocked if the NCAA grants hardship waivers to guys returning to their home region to be closer to family in a time of national crisis. This means both Murphy and Wertz could be potentially eligible this coming season. Potentially. The unfortunate part is that clarity on that matter wouldn’t likely arrive until this fall, much like we saw with Braxton Key’s waiver in 2018. But given the possibility, we’ve chosen to list them as 2020 recruits just in case.
Murphy is more of a forward, standing 6’8″, who led the Rice Owls in scoring at 13.7 ppg, grabbed 5.5 boards a game, hit 57% on his 2’s and 37% on his 3’s, efficient both inside and out.
Wertz is more of a guard, standing 6’4″, who finished second on the Santa Clara Broncos in scoring at 11.9 ppg, led the team in assists at 3.9 assists, and hit 57% on his 2’s and 40% on his 3’s.
Obviously both would need to step up their games coming from mid-major conferences (C-USA and the WCC) to the ACC, though at the same time would benefit from having better talent around them to help them create.
Both would be value additions whether eligible this year or next.
Even though the season’s been over a few weeks already (ugh) it’s still relatively early, the transfer cycle often running through Memorial Day, so don’t consider these names to be exhaustive. Other names could still potentially emerge.
Or maybe Tony feels good about the returning 12 players (they’re a good group!) and decides just to hold firm on kids for next season (maybe taking a 2021 reclass-and-redshirt to use up the last scholly) and instead focus on his 2021 class. Which brings us to…
For the sake of this argument, let’s assume no additional names are added to the roster for the upcoming season, and Tony has shifted fully into recruiting for the 2021 class. Any players that commit late for 2020 would slot in here essentially taking the place of a 2021 need.
Next summer we lose Jay Huff, Sam Hauser, and Tomas Woldetensae to graduation. Potentially three starters at the 3, 4, and 5. That creates real need to bring in more front court players, as the only bigs or big-capable guys we’d have would be centers Caffaro (RS Jr) and Shedrick (RS So), and small-ball-4 McKoy (Jr). Ideally you want five guys for those two spots, so we’ll be looking for both a big rim-protecting 5 and a rangy, athletic 4 (preferably with a good shot). The names to know right now are Richmond big man Efton Reid and Arizona forward DaRon Holmes. Both have visited (in Reid’s case, extensively), both have reportedly great relationships with the UVA staff. Neither are in “sure thing” territory yet, as in Reid’s case Richmond kids seemingly never end up at UVA (the list is long and distinguished) and for Holmes the distance from Arizona may become too high a hurdle. But whether it’s Reid, Holmes, both, or neither, UVA will 100% be looking to add a pair of big men / forwards between now and next summer.
Where we start getting into interesting discussions is in talking about guards and wings in the 2021 class. As UVA saw this past season, you can never have too many ball handlers and perimeter shooters to buoy your offense. So in the 2021 class we’ll be looking for guys who can (a) round out the rotation for the 2021-22 season’s tourney run, (b) potentially play big roles if (when?) there’s attrition in the back court over the next 18 months, and (c) get ready to take over for any departures in the offseason of 2022.
From a pure numbers perspective, there are four scholarships to work with between now and next summer for the 2021-22 roster, but odds are that number is five or even six by the time next summer rolls around with typical attrition rates applied. We’ve already talked about two of those spots going to big men at the 4 and 5 spots, meaning we’re probably working with around 3 guards ultimately targeted for those additional spots. One may be filled with a late 2020 addition like Wertz as already discussed, or they may be addressed with a sit-out transfer this summer or 2021 freshmen.
The one definite sit-out transfer name to watch at the moment (in addition to Wertz and Murphy should they not get a waiver) is Ohio State guard Luther Muhammed. He was recruited heavily in the late summer of 2017 to be a part of the 2018 class, but after visiting UVA he chose to become a Buckeye. The New Jersey native’s name is now in the transfer portal after he averaged 7 ppg as a sophomore on a deep and balanced team; his percentages were fair with a 35% 3P% and 44% on his 2’s. His destination is anyone’s guess, but this feels like one UVA may get involved with given his reputation as a rugged defender. If there’s any knock, it’s that he may be too similar to Casey Morsell, and a redshirt from Muhammed would lock them into the same class.
The 2021 high school name to watch is Trevor Keels, a Top 50 product out of Northern Virginia whom Tony’s been heavily recruiting for a while. One of the best players in the DMV’s elite WCAC conference, Keels has UVA at the top of his list along with Villanova and maybe Duke. Dontrez Styles from NC may be another name to watch
The Hoos may look for another point guard in the 2021 class, with North Carolina’s Carter Whitt a player UVA has history with, though with Kihei and Reece Beekman both on the roster that year, Tony may find it hard to find someone willing to wait a year for Kihei to graduate to free up minutes, making it possible point guard isn’t addressed until the 2022 class when a player can be sold as “taking over Kihei’s scholarship.”
With 2021 high school recruits, gaging when any one will want to commit is difficult with campus visits and the summer travel circuit both suspended for months. Some may just opt to shut it down now, commit, and put the uncertainty behind them, especially those that already have good offers in hand and have made visits to their favorites. Others, though, are going to wait longer than ever, well into the fall perhaps, maybe even into next spring, so they can take full advantage of the recruiting process if and when it returns to something like normal. Tony has always like to have a lot of recruiting done before the 4th of July, so it could be an important few months for him.
We’re in unprecedented territory here, without a doubt. There has never been, and hopefully never again will be, a recruiting situation like this. Between the COVID shutdowns and the NCAA’s evolving rules on transfers, there’s so many moving pieces it’s near impossible to keep track of. We’ll do our best, though, and of course trust that with Tony in charge, UVA will find a way to manage and succeed regardless. I think roster stability becomes a premium, and the Hoos right now project to have a good bit of it as Tony has developed a good program culture that keeps a steady stream of 4-year guys coming through.