Perhaps you’ve been waiting for Virginia to revert back to the status of ACC also-ran it settled into most of the two-plus decades between the glory days of Ralph Sampson and the hiring of current coach Tony Bennett.
Forget about it.
Bennett hasn’t just put together a good team at Virginia, he’s built a program. The Cavaliers have risen to a point where Bennett and Co. are no longer rebuilding each with each recruiting class, they simply reload at positions where players have moved on to the pros.
After losing Joe Harris, now with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Akil Mitchell following the 2013-14 season, Virginia saw Justin Anderson and Darion Atkins slide into their roles and arguably play even better.
Now Anderson is with the Dallas Mavericks and Atkins is trying to secure a spot on the Knicks roster. The question at Virginia is who blooms into a star this season.
Virginia still has an impressive core group coming back. Malcom Brogdon and London Perrantes will make up one of the country’s best and most experienced backcourts. Mike Tobey is back as a 7-foot center who can block shots and step out on the floor offensively while power forward Anthony Gill might land on some preseason All-ACC teams.
What we are waiting to see now is which Cavaliers make the big jump in production and if after back-to-back gut wrenching losses to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament if they can finally lead UVA on a deep run in March.
A decent guess might be sophomore Isaiah Wilkins, the stepson of former Atlanta Hawks superstar Dominique Wilkins.
Wilkins didn’t play a ton last season, averaging 1.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. But he showed flashes of tremendous talent and athleticism. The jump from freshman to sophomore has also traditionally been a big one in Bennett’s system.
The 6-7 Wilkins had the look of a small forward last season, but had bulked up in the offseason and with his quick jumping ability has potential to get a lot Atkins minutes in the post.
There’s also Tennessee transfer Darius Thompson a guard who started 10 games for the Volunteers as a freshman two years ago. If he enjoys as much success after transferring to Virginia as Gill, who averaged 11.6 points per game last year and was one of the best defenders in the country after transferring from South Carolina.
People want to write Virginia off as a team that rode upperclassmen to a couple of nice years and plays a gimmick style that won’t hold up. But the truth is Bennett’s been recruiting at a higher level each season.
The Cavaliers now have talent and depth to go along with an offensive and defensive system that’s tough to beat.
Yes, Virginia, you will be good again this season as well as many seasons to come. And the blue blood programs may not want to hear it, but with Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim all nearing retirement age, the Cavaliers might be as well set up for longterm success as any program in the ACC.