Passion. Unity. Thankfulness. Servanthood. Humility.
Perhaps no one embodies the five pillars of Virginia basketball quite like Jack Salt, UVa's lone senior day honoree.
Salt is a fifth-year senior who came over from New Zealand, where he played lots of volleyball. To travel halfway across the world, get into a world-class university and play a sport that isn't your first love -- that takes some kind of faith and passion to think outside the box. The coaching staff didn't have much to go on, but thought he'd be a good fit. And he certainly has been.
Salt is the antithesis of a "me-first" player. He's only gotten marginally better with his offensive skills in four years, but his specialties are defense and setting screens on offense, neither of which end with him scoring points. He's all about servanthood and fitting into the entire unit, and he's played that role brilliantly. He does all the dirty work, whatever it takes, oftentimes giving up his body to dive on the floor for loose balls.
Tony Bennett, of course, loves defense and loves the way Salt plays defense. His effort is tireless on that side of the floor, and he's nearly mastered the art of hands-straight-up-in-the-air defense. We are all very familiar with that move, as he's stonewalled a number of opposing players over the years with the tactic, especially the past couple seasons, by doing that just as they thought they had a clean lane to the basket. The best part is refs began to respect the move and not call as many fouls on Salt, who was a whistle magnet his first couple seasons on the court. I've always thought his volleyball background helped with this technique, as it mimics jumping up to block a ball at the net. My guess is Salt is thankful for defense, the way Bennett teaches it, and for the opportunity to get on the court and play because of it.
And of course the screens. The bone-crunching screens. Who among us hasn't ooohed and ahhhed at a signature Salt pick, ending with a helpless defender lying prone on the court as one of Salt's teammates zooms past? Simply awesome.
If there's one thing Salt has gotten down pat on offense, it's thunderous dunks. He only knows how to do them one way: It's going to be with two hands, and it's going to be powerful. Salt had a handful this season against Maryland when he scored a career-high 12 points. One thing he wasn't able to get down: free throws. They have always been a struggle, but it's reason to celebrate when he makes 1 of 2.
Being humble is one of the toughest pillars to pursue. As humans, we start to feel good and prideful about ourselves when things are going our way. We like to think we have it all figured out. Salt's playing time has been dropping recently, and he's been having some back problems, and these issues have been more pronounced during the stretch run of his senior season, when no doubt, he wants to be playing his best ball. But he hasn't whined. He hasn't complained. He just continues to be Jack Salt, the pillar of the team.
Let Ty Jerome speak to the humble man and player Salt is:
"I think this year, Jack has been asked to do something that not many people are asked to do," Jerome said after the Pittsburgh game last Saturday. "He doesn't know, going into a game, how many minutes he's going to get or if he's even going to take one shot. And his attitude never changes. He'll give 110 percent for us every single possession. And that's something you don't see in almost any other guy in the country. If you ask them to play 30 minutes one game, and five minutes the next, I don't know if any other guy in the country will give you their all. And he does. He continues to lead every day and continues to fight through back pain. He's a warrior, and I'll go to battle with him any day."
Here's to The Big Kiwi and hoping we see some signature Salt moments today. And maybe a made free throw.