Virginia Men's Basketball

Hectic Spring of Recruiting Lies Ahead for Virginia

Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The couple months immediately following each season is a chaotic time annually in college basketball.  Players decide whether to transfer, and then look for new homes. The coaching carousel exacerbates the situation, leading to additional players on the move.  This Spring is expected to be wilder than ever.  Virginia won’t be immune. Next year’s roster is already in need of patchwork before we find out whether anyone heads for the transfer portal.

Uncharted Territory

Two major NCAA rule changes will contribute to making this Spring’s late recruiting cycle the most chaotic ever.   The first change has already been enacted, and the other likely will be in the coming weeks.  This 2020-21 season doesn’t count towards each player’s four years of eligibility, which means seniors have the option to return next year.   And a universal waiver for first-time transfers is expected to be approved soon.  

Virginia’s seniors will probably all move on, but any of them could choose to stay.  They wouldn’t count against the scholarship total either.  Hypothetically, they could even go through the NBA Pre-Draft process before making a final decision.  Where it gets particularly interesting is there’s no rule that the extra year must be used at a player’s current school.  That opens up a whole new market of fifth-year transfers, an option that might be very appealing to mid-major stars.  We’ll be dealing with the “free year” fallout for a while, as it doesn’t only apply to seniors.  

Transfers have always been required to sit out one year of competition, with the exception of graduates and those receiving special waivers.  The purpose is to deter athletes from making hasty decisions.  Well, the NCAA is about to change that.   If the rule is enacted as expected, every player can transfer once without sitting.  Coaches fear it will lead to free agency in college sports, and they’re not wrong.  The bottom line is there will be more transfers than ever before.  

While it’s not uncharted territory anymore, the dead period is still in effect too.  It’s been extended through May.  That means the late recruiting cycle will once again happen over Zoom.  No in-person contact allowed.  

At-Risk Roster

The players most at-risk of transfer are always those that have fallen behind their personal expectations, whether in playing time or performance.  Underclassmen in particular at the high-major level.  With the likely rule change coming, young players that haven’t established themselves become even more vulnerable. 

Virginia is using all 13 available scholarships this year, something Bennett has rarely done.   Seven of those players are underclassmen, all pretty heavily recruited.  They have high expectations.  Only two, Reece Beekman and Casey Morsell, have regularly been in the rotation.  And Morsell’s role isn’t all that steady.  Some of them will surely at least consider entering the transfer portal.  I hope they all come back, but odds are we’ll lose a couple. 

I’ll get into Vrginia’s late period needs and interests below.  Keep in mind, any departure of an underclassman adds to the list.  They won’t willingly pocket more scholarships for class of 2022 recruits.  There’s already plenty of space for that.   The transfer market will need to be a larger piece of the recruiting portfolio going forward.  It has to be in order to excel in the new environment.  The goal is to upgrade in the portal tradeoff.  

We’ll probably also need to sweat it out while junior Trey Murphy tests NBA Draft waters.  He comes it at #54 overall on The Athletic’s latest Big Board.

Where Things Stand

Virginia currently has 11 scholarship players slotted for next season.  That seems to be Bennett’s ideal number. Before this year, he had never entered a season with more than 11 active players, and only once had fewer than 10.  Active meaning redshirts excluded.  It’s  something to keep in mind.  If there are defections,  history tells us he’ll make every effort to get back into that range.  

While the current total is fine, It’s an unbalanced roster.  Seven guards, three big men, and one hybrid in Murphy.   There’s an obvious hole up front and concern about the backcourt too.

Help Needed Up Front

There’s only one absolute must-get as things stand, a big man.  Preferably a proven commodity.   It wouldn’t be good at all to enter next season with a thin frontcourt made up entirely of inexperienced players.  It’s an opportunity that should be very attractive to high-end transfers.  

The ideal candidate would be a power forward type that could start between Kadin Shedrick and Trey Murphy, and then slide down to the center spot in small-ball lineups.  They’ll need to be flexible though.  Transfer recruiting is like shopping at a flea market.  There will be really good items available, but no guarantee of exactly what you want.  And it’s important to close the deal quickly or someone else will. 

They’re open to the right long term addition as well.  Remember, it was always the intention to get a big man in the 2021 class.  However, the type of player they’re interested in has changed a little as they’ve gotten more involved with 2022 recruits.   They’re looking for athleticism and rim protection to potentially complement top forward target Isaac Traudt.   Maybe the right guy pops up, a freshman transfer or someone previously committed elsewhere.  If not, it’ll be added to the 2022 agenda.  

Backcourt Conundrum

This is where things get delicate.  There’s no shortage of returning guards.  On paper, it’s not an obvious need.  But those of us who’ve watched the games realize it’s a real offensive weakness of this year’s team.  The three expected returners in the rotation have been below average shooters, and none have proven capable of consistently creating quality shots for themselves.    

Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman are talented floor generals, but they need scoring punch around them.  They’ve been forced into a less than optimal situation this year of playing together for heavy minutes.  That’s the result of a lack of confidence in other options.  Bennett will certainly try seeking a remedy through the transfer portal.  A go-to shot creator is on the wish list. 

Carson McCorkle and incoming freshman Taine Murray should step in to provide needed perimeter shooting.  And the long term solution for the missing bucket-getter is hopefully already on the roster in Jabri Abdur-Rahim.  Remember,  both he and McCorkle missed their final high school season with major foot injuries.  They’ve essentially been treated as redshirts this year.  The interest in a backcourt addition isn’t out of any disbelief in their bright future.  It’s more a product of the older guards that haven’t yet proven dependable.  

Trevor Keels, the class of 2021 guard from Paul VI in Fairfax, is still a possibility.  He has a Final Four of Virginia, Duke, Villanova, and Kentucky.  

2022 Reload

When the season ends and all this late cycle madness is in full stride, we might find it easy to lose sight of the big picture.  While transfer recruiting is more important than ever, Virginia’s long term success will continue to hinge on the young men that enter the program out of high school.  Tony Bennett is working toward piecing together his next generation to ensure that Virginia Basketball remains a national power for the foreseeable future.  

Class of 2022 recruiting will be the lasting story of this off-season.  They’re on a very promising path there for what will probably be a four or five man group.   With Isaac McKneely already committed and deep involvement with three other top targets, the Dream Scenario isn’t far fetched.  Bennett and his staff have done a remarkable job of overcoming the challenges of the NCAA’s dead period.   They’ll be mindful to protect their status with the 2022 class while considering potential Spring additions.

There’s an exciting year of recruiting ahead with huge implications for the program, both short and long term.   The late cycle is only the first stage.  You can follow every step of the way with Locker Room Access.

(Image: Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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