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Virginia Men's Basketball

High Stakes September

There’s been a distinctive pattern in recruiting under Tony Bennett. Early targets make early decisions, or Virginia fades away. It’s the result of a purposeful strategy. In short, they zero in on a few key juniors each Fall and simply recruit them harder than other programs through the following Summer. The backup plan is never another player exactly. It’s a month on the calendar. The annual July evaluation periods have proven to be almost a reset under Bennett. That’s when new targets are identified and the old ones are usually wrapped up one way or another by the time coaches go back out in September.

The dead period has thrown a wrench into all that. On one hand, it’s the first time Bennett has gone into September without a commit. On the other, everyone he’s wanted most is still attainable. Three of the four serious targets left are guys you’ve heard about for a full year. We’ve never had anything like this. The last time he went the distance was with Braxton Key back in the class of 2016. it’s been a rarity. In the last 10 years, Virginia hasn’t turned a pre-July offer into a September or later commitment. Of course, there’s also never been a six-month ban on in-person recruiting. If there’s a time for patterns to break, it’s now.

Guards

Virginia’s demise with Trevor Keels has been greatly exaggerated. Yet, this is not the position they wanted to be in. Rivals analyst Corey Evans has claimed that Trevor nearly committed to Villanova in Spring. I think that would have gone our way actually. All that matters is where we are now. Duke believes they’re getting him. Virginia coaches are still feeling good. And Villanova fans are irrationally confident. I know fans are tired of hearing about him. We’re not used to these marathons. But Bennett is in this to win it. Regardless of what some outside experts believe, UVA’s chances are as good as any of the three. We just don’t want it to go on much longer.

Keels is uncommitted in large part because he can be, simple as that. Same goes for most other heavily recruited prospects in the class. There’s very little pressure, especially with coaches stuck at home. He’s the top target of three of the best programs in college basketball, and none of them are walking away. Virginia feels like the dead period robbed them of their full opportunity to close him out early. And without summer evaluations, no one new came along anyway. They’ll be in this until he says yes or no. So will Duke and Villanova. It’s a heavyweight contest for what I believe is the most valuable recruit in the country.

New Zealander Taine Murray is down to a final three of Virginia, Stanford, and Maryland. Unlike Keels, he is under some pressure to make a decision. From my distant view, this one’s been a real roller coaster. At first, we thought Virginia was the clear favorite. As more information came in, it looked like Stanford would surely win out. Meanwhile, Maryland sources claim they’re a frontrunner. I still think Stanford has a slight edge, but Bennett has worked this hard the last couple weeks to tighten things up. A Murray commitment would not rule out Keels, although if somehow Keels committed first it might rule out Murray. Recruiting is weird sometimes, I know.

Forwards

I can’t help but think Tony Bennett sees a lot of Malcolm Brogdon in Trey Kaufman. He’s a totally different player obviously, but they definitely share character traits. Read this article from Inside The Hall and you’ll understand. If I’m right that Bennett thinks along that line, there’s no chance he’ll walk away. This could take a while. Trey’s another recruit under no real pressure. Indiana has long been considered the favorite. Yeah sure, they wish he’d commit already. But the only other recruit on their radar, Mason Miller, won’t decide until Spring. North Carolina recently offered, and Purdue has managed to hang around. Still, I believe this is mostly a Hoosiers vs Hoos battle at the top line.

Kaufman recently said he’s going to take visits, even if he has to do it on his own during the dead period. That would be great news, and I expect he will follow through with trips to UVA and probably Carolina. My concern is that if Trey is the overly analytical young man people describe him as, he could very well just be taking his time researching every option before making the expected decision to attend Indiana. Then, I go back to the Brogdon comparison and again can’t help but wonder if there’s a chemistry with Bennett that could be the difference.

Big man Efton Reid from Richmond has made the move down to IMG Academy (FL). There’s been some time now since he flirted with reclassification. The picture is starting to settle down. Virginia has climbed back into relevancy. Our chances aren’t good, but they’re real again. The longer this goes on, and it’s not expected to end soon, who knows. Right now, I believe Pitt and Ohio State are in the best spot. Michigan is still in there too. The point I always come back to with Efton is that he’s essentially already turned down most everyone on his list once by not enrolling in 2020. That wasn’t an option with Virginia.

What if we strike out?

First off, it’s a very real possibility. You’ll notice I didn’t call UVA the favorite for any of those recruits. Odds are they’ll get at least one because they’re close with three. It’s uncomfortable being in September with not only zero commits, but none that you can claim favorite status. I think the explanation, and maybe hints of the answer, are in Coach Bennett’s comments in a recent interview with VirginiaSports.com’s Jeff White.

Just go back with me. I saw Malcolm Brogdon in July going into his senior year [of high school]. I saw De’Andre Hunter in the last weekend in July in Las Vegas [before his 12th-grade year]. Those guys would not be UVA players if it was a summer like we just had, because I would have never seen them. I just happened to uncover them. Kihei Clark, same thing. I think there are going to be a lot of hidden gems that go uncovered.” -Tony Bennett

Bennett went on to discuss the difficulty in evaluating potential recruits based on film alone, and the need to see them in-person. That’s the real hang-up here, and I don’t expect it to suddenly change should he miss out on current targets. While other programs are offering scholarships off of live streamed AAU action. UVA has resisted. They are watching though., and collecting names to follow-up later. I know some fans are hoping they’ll just move on to the 2022 class. And they’ll need to soon to some extent, but the 2021 search won’t end.

Eventually coaches will be allowed out again, and UVA will be prepared. There’s definitely a few they’re already closely considering, and surely some I don’t know about. They’ve stayed in touch with guards Lucas Taylor and Deebo Coleman, and forward Markus Ilver is one to watch down the line. But I think you’ll find the backup plan is still roughly the same, only on a later calendar . In the meantime, welcome to the most high-stakes September of the Bennett-era. Everything we hoped for is still out there to be realistically had, only the potential downside seems steeper than ever. Let’s hope it goes well so they can spend their time finding class of 2022 recruits instead of mining late gems.

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