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Men's Basketball

Almost Hoos part 2

Continuing with the recruits that almost were. Part one is here if you missed it. Again, all stories are only my view of events. With the top five, we’re getting into some delicate situations. All were very close to being Hoos. I put them in order more according to how interesting or untold their stories are. All rankings from the 247Sports composite.

5) Aaron Wiggins Maryland

Ranked #42 in the class of 2018 out of Wesleyan Christian (NC)

Details: Wiggins wasn’t well known until the Fall of his junior year. College coaches discovered him during open gym season. Virginia offered that October on a visit, a week after Bennett stopped by his school. While fans were focused on earlier higher ranked targets, it was Wiggins that had quietly become the priority. He returned for a game in January. That’s when the first rumors of a commitment circulated. And then again during April’s live periods, as his stock soared and new offers flooded in. UVA seemed to abandon his recruitment at that point.

Since then: Aaron averaged 8 points per game off the bench as a freshman, shooting over 40% from three-point range.

Fallout: Right around the time they stopped recruiting Wiggins is when I first heard of involvement with an Australian. Kody Stattmann committed that September.

4) Noah Dickerson Washington

Ranked #73 in the class of 2015 out of Montverde (FL)

Details: Virginia recruited him out of high school, but really never got far. After his sophomore year, Washington fired head coach Lorenzo Romar and Noah was granted a release to transfer. This time UVA had a more attractive roster along with favorable ties, Bennett’s relationship to Romar and Noah’s friendship with Isaiah Wilkins. He took only one visit, an official to Charlottesville. By all accounts, that went extremely well. UVA sources were confident it would get done, and quickly. When an announcement didn’t happen, Bennett flew to Seattle to meet again. As it turned out, Noah changed his mind about transferring entirely. He finished his college career at Washington.

Since then: As a senior, Noah led Washington to their first NCAA tournament appearance in eight years. He now plays professionally in Israel.

Fallout: The late cycle of ’17 was a complicated time for Virginia’s recruiting. They had fallen behind with plans for a large 2018 class. There was no room for a forward to play right away, but they wanted to fill a spot if possible. So the only options were sit-out transfer or freshman to red-shirt, which they found in Francesco Badocchi.

3) Sacha Killeya-Jones Kentucky

Ranked #23 in the class of 2016 out of Virginia Episcopal

Details: Sacha is the only decommit of the Bennett era. Overlooked early on, UVA recognized his potential and prioritized him. He announced his commitment on New Years Day as a junior. Six months later, he reopened. Supposedly, he felt the coaches didn’t keep him informed well enough of their plans, such as Jay Huff’s addition weeks before and Mamadi Diakite’s reclassification. While those may have been used as excuses, I believe it was mostly about other opportunities. Specifically Kentucky. Sacha’s AAU teammate, Jalek Felton, openly discussed John Calipari’s continued pursuit in spite of his UNC commitment. I suspect Sacha caught the Kentucky staff’s attention along the way. Offers flooded in, UNC and Kansas included. But the rest of the process seemed more like a delayed flip than an actual reopening.

Since then: Sacha went on to 5-star status and was named a McDonald’s All-American. After two years of limited action at Kentucky, he transferred to North Carolina State, then opted to turn pro before ever gaining eligibility. Signed by a German club in September, he’s since been released. Current whereabouts unknown.

Fallout: His spot was taken a month later by Memphis transfer Austin Nichols.

2) Kenny Williams North Carolina

Ranked #96 in the class of 2015 out of LC Bird (VA)

Details: Virginia had only one spot for that early signing period, tagged for a big man. They weren’t involved during his first go round when he chose VCU over North Carolina. That April, Shaka Smart left for Texas and Kenny reopened his recruitment. Justin Anderson turned pro and BJ Stith transferred. Immediate scholarships were no longer an issue. UVA offered and was considered the favorite over a UNC program that was struggling to recruit under cloud of investigation. Still, it was a tricky situation. Bennett’s focus was the 2016 class. He had three commits (Jerome, Guy, SKJ), and two more (Diakite, Huff) that were close to a sure thing. Tony could see his masterpiece taking shape. Only a wing was missing. Adding Kenny would mean letting that go. He was absolutely welcome, but only after the challenges were made clear. There was no sugar coated sales pitch on his official visit in early May. He would need to accept fighting for minutes against the three guards in the class ahead and two more that Tony loved coming behind. Red-shirting was a definite possibility. A report leaked that he planned to commit while there, leading to a flood of crystal ball picks. I think he expected a far different message than he received. Just hours after leaving Charlottesville, he announced for the Tar Heels.

Since then: Kenny was a three year starter at North Carolina, part of their 2017 national championship team. He now plays for the Austin Spurs in the G League.

Fallout: By keeping a scholarship open in 2015, there was room for Austin Nichols during his mandatory sit-out year. Yeah, that guy again. More importantly, it let Bennett finish his 2016 masterpiece with DeAndre Hunter.

1) Michael Porter Jr. Missouri

Ranked #2 in the class of 2017 out of Father Tolton (MO)

Details: Kyle Guy’s childhood best friend named Virginia a finalist in the summer before his senior year. In actuality, our part in his story was long over by then. The prior summer is when things were hot. He visited twice, staying after Top 100 camp and then returning in August. His last visit was coincidentally on the same day as DeAndre Hunter’s first visit. Dre would later say that he wasn’t sure he was Virginia’s top priority at that point. You see, Porter was always a class of 2016 target for Virginia. The plan was for him to reclassify, then sign during the late period From a close knit family of faith, Bennett was the only coach he seriously considered playing for that didn’t offer the family package. And it was close to happening at that time. Even after Dre committed, the door was still open. Eventually the Porters decided against Michael’s reclassification, effectively ending Virginia’s chances before any final list or even his dad accepting a coaching position.

Since then: A back injury limited Porter to just three games in his lone college season at Missouri. He was drafted 14th overall in 2018. After missing all of last season, he’s now returned to action for the Denver Nuggets.

Fallout: Realistically, there wasn’t much chance of UVA still getting Porter after Hunter committed. While I’m sure Michael’s one year as a Hoo would have been fantastic, it couldn’t have been as unbelieVable as what Dre helped deliver.  

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