Following the NBA exodus of his biggest stars, Tony Bennett went out and added two players to his 2019 recruiting class. Justin McKoy came first, a high school senior from Cary, North Carolina, to take De'Andre Hunter's scholarship (we will scout Justin soon). Then he snuck up and poached junior college all-American Tomas Woldetensae from Illinois to step into the vacated backcourt alongside true freshman Casey Morsell. Woldetensae could wind up being the final piece of the 2019-20 Cavaliers. StLouHoo set out what kind of player Woldetensae is, and below is my analysis from watching two of his games from this past season.
The first thing you notice about Tomas Woldetensae - already it gets easier to type that last name - is the hair. It looks like Bart Simpson attacked London Perrantes with hedge clippers. When he gets to Virginia, however, he might just blend into the undergrowth. We can guarantee that Tony Bennett was not the coach who made a negative comment about his hair to his JUCO coach. Tomas will fit right in at Virginia. The Hoos' latest international follows Francesco Badocchi from Italy by way of the American Midwest. Frankie was from Milan signed out of a high school in Kansas; Tomas is from Bologna signed out of a junior college in Iowa. Like Frankie, Tomas has creative interests outside of basketball: Frankie plays the piano and Tomas draws and wants to study architecture. The two bring a veritable Italian Renaissance to the Virginia Basketball program. Like with Frankie, Tony Bennett swooped in at the last minute and stole Tomas from Illinois.
Tomas came to the U.S. and attended Victory Rock Prep in Florida, then originally committed to UMKC. That is not a typo, it is the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Instead of matriculating there, Woldetensae landed a couple states north at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa. Indian Hills is one of the top JUCOs in the nation. After a strong freshman season in which coach Hank Plona said Tomas was used very much like Ty Jerome, Woldetensae blossomed into a first-team JUCO All-American with 48% shooting on 210 three-point attempts. His recruiting profile blew up, with Oregon, Maryland and Illinois on his dance card with UCF, Southern Illinois and Colorado State. He visited Illinois a week after the National Championship. When Fred Hoiberg took over at Nebraska, one of his first acts was to contact Woldetensae. When Kyle Guy announced that he would not be returning to school no matter what, and 5* high schooler Johnny Juzang went Hollywood on Tony, Virginia jumped in. “The immense success Virginia has had is something Tomas wanted to be a part of,” coach Plona told the Daily Progress.
The "immense success" created the opportunity for Tomas. Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy took 70 minutes and almost 30 points per game out of Virginia's backcourt, leaving behind Kihei Clark. De'Andre Hunter took another 15 ppg with him, leaving the Cavaliers with virtually no perimeter scoring to carry over from 2018-19 to 2019-20. With no guards from the 2017 or 2018 recruiting classes available to move up, the only replacement was true freshman Casey Morsell. Morsell is a marvelous player with a fairly complete offensive game, but the key words in the previous sentence were "true freshman." With none of the wings on the roster being suitable for substantial guard duties - Braxton Key, Kody Stattmann and true freshman Justin McKoy - Virginia needed another guard just to have the bare minimum necessary for competitiveness in the ACC.
Three-point shooting. This is not just a strength, it is a super-strength. Woldetensae not only was an accurate high-volume shooter for Indian Hills, but he shares a lot of functional characteristics with the departed Kyle Guy. He gets the ball off his fingertips very quickly, he shoots with great confidence, and he can shoot on the move. He has a similar effect on defenses: he's the guy you don't leave, and if you do lose track of him, goddammit it's three points. Because he has a little more size than Guy, he might be a little better at shooting contested shots.
Ball-handling. Tomas was Indian Hills' primary scoring option this past season, averaging 17 points and 7 three-point attempts per game. As a freshman, however, Plona used him more like Ty Jerome, running the show and blending distribution with finding his own shot. He averaged over 2:1 A:TO his freshman year. Even in the two games I watched, Tomas initiated the offense regularly and was as comfortable being ball-dominant as being off the ball. Moreover, he had no problem advancing the ball against pressure. If Bennett is unable to bring in another point guard, Woldetensae is fully capable of backing up Kihei Clark.
Intangibles. Listen to his coach talk about him and watch him in games, and it's easy to see how he fits with Virginia's program. "He plays with some fire and is extremely competitive," Coach Plona said about Tomas. Sound familiar? On the court, Tomas is always communicating, always positive, leading his teammates and supporting them. He brings good energy to the court, and is engaged in the game. He also has a high basketball IQ and usually makes good decisions with the ball. He's a guy who is going to come in, work hard, study, and do everything he can to help the team win.
"He wants to make his teammates better. He wants to play with other good players. He wants to play basketball ‘the right way’," Plona said of his star player. "Growing up in Europe, he watches the professional style and the ball moves and it’s not really about what you score but it’s about your team moving the ball and sharing it and everybody getting touches. I think he really enjoys playing that way. But we wanted him to be a lot more aggressive this year, and he really grew into that role to where he was comfortable being the go-to guy." He's a very good fit in the culture of Virginia Basketball.
Free throw shooting. Especially in clutch situations. “He’s always a guy you want to go to in that situation,” Plona said. “He’s a guy that relishes those moments.” For his career, he is a consistent 89% from the line, and when you watch him, he's always the same. This factor would have been higher on the list, but this is Virginia so how often will he get to the line anyway?
Quickness. Woldetensae is not going to overwhelm anyone with his athleticism, but like Kihei he is deceptively quick. He has some shake in his bake and quick feet and hands. Once he learns what a defensive stance is he should be able to keep his man in front of him. Once he can do that, he can become a real problem for opponents on defense.