For the third time in a week I'm having to write a recruiting update. This is a good problem to have. Monday it was the wrap up of the April live periods. Wednesday it was the commitment of center Francisco Caffaro. And today, it's the pledge of Alabama transfer wing Braxton Key.
If the name Braxton Key sounds a little familiar to you, it should. Virginia began recruiting him as early as 2014 (back then he went by Braxton Blackwell) to be the big wing in it's 2016 class. As the summer of 2015 started to wind down, Virginia was heavily recruiting both Braxton and De'Andre Hunter and would've been thrilled with either. It simply came down to Hunter committing first. But sometimes, second time's the charm. Oh, and did we mention he's Ralph Sampson's nephew? Braxton is ready to put his own stamp on the program, however.
What to Expect
Braxton is essentially being brought in to replace Hunter, who at this point looks likely enough to jump to the NBA next summer. Their two games aren't identical. But they fill the same role in the lineup, and that's as a jumbo wing who can play as a long 3 or as a perimeter-oriented 4.
Key is definitely a more physical player, however. At 6'8", 225 lbs on the Alabama roster this past season, he's got the build of a power forward, yet he's got the handles of wing. He's definitely at home scoring in a congested paint environment, putting that big frame to work going downhill with ease.
When looking at his Alabama stats, I'd urge you to look closer at his freshman stats than his sophomore. This past year, he had meniscus surgery in November; while he returned to the court in December, he never quite looked comfortable, and his stats reflected it. But if you want to know what he's truly capable of, look at his freshman year, when he led Alabama in scoring and made the SEC's all-Freshman team. He scored effectively at the rim, wasn't terrible from 3 (though this will be a focus area of his redshirt season, I'm positive), and posted solid rebounding percentages for a wing (DR/OR% of around 16 and 6 for his career, which doubles anything Evan Nolte ever did as a combo forward). He's also a good distributor for a forward, as you'll see in this freshman year highlight video:
I expect his redshirt year to see him slim down just a little, probably aiming for somewhere closer to 220 to improve his perimeter mobility, hops, and endurance, with additional work on his jump shot. But his physicality, his willingness and effectiveness getting into the paint to score, will all be incredibly valuable on this team when he comes eligible for the 2019-2020 season. He will allow Bennett to run the 4-out offense he knows he needs to without sacrificing defense or rebounding, and for that reason above all I'm truly excited.
This is a great pickup.
Let's start by plugging Key into our scholarship picture over the next three seasons: (Reminder, projections of "readiness" are incredibly subjective, and I lean towards not assuming too much in terms of what an unknown can give us and when.)
Once again, starting with the upcoming 2018-19 season, nothing changes, we're still a body too thin on the perimeter, so we expect the staff to continue working for a grad-transfer guard/wing.
For 2019, Braxton checks the box for our big wing need to potentially replace Hunter in the 2019 season. There's really only one spot left for our 2019 roster. That need is for a big guard or a wing who has the size to defend the 3 when we roll out a small lineup. But even then, that's a soft need if a) there's no injury/transfer attrition, and b) Ty and Kyle are four year players. The only reason I say we have a need there is the fact that attrition does happen, and while we got lucky this year (so far), we still have to prepare for the possibility next summer, even beyond a possible Dre NBA jump. My goal when looking more than a year out is to aim for 11 ACC-ready players (meaning green or yellow in my matrix above), so that if there's attrition you still have a healthy 10-man rotation, and if nothing else it allows young players to come along slowly.
Names still on the board for that last position are (in no particular order) five stars Josiah James and Josh Green, Cali two-sport star Drake London, Connecticut forward Jaiden Delaire, Philly wing Seth Lundy, and the North Carolina-based trio of Patrick Williams, Greg Gantt, and Au'Diese Toney. Combo guards like Deuce Dean (SC) or Maceo Austin (PA) may additionally be considered.
The exciting thing here is that the staff can now largely turn its attention to 2020 recruiting. There's a real need for a point guard and a big man in 2020, plus a likely need for a scoring guard/wing. Virginia coaches would love to wrap up 2019 early, which is very possible with no more than 1 spot to go, and then hope that the 2020 class can be one they start filling this fall (like they did in 2014 with the early strikes on 2016's Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy).
Hoo fans should definitely feel good about recruiting this week. It may not be a traditional recruiting approach, one where we're targeting all four-star freshmen, and instead looks a lot like the Gonzaga model (Seattle will have the follow up on this very soon), but it's one that should absolutely work for Bennett going forward.