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Virginia Men's Basketball

Virginia Summer Recruiting Storylines

(Image: Hoop Group)

We’re getting into the thick of the 2023 recruiting cycle now.  UVA dished out eight scholarship offers following April’s live periods.  Two of those players have already visited, with a couple more expected next week. Things are just starting to warm up. There’s a lot of summer recruiting ahead, and questions to be answered… 

Can Bennett go back to back?

For programs like Virginia that are set up to develop and feature experienced players, there are always ebbs and flows to recruiting.  It’s hard to find consistency.  The price of recruiting well one year is that it can make the following years more challenging. Since players are generally expected to be around for all four years, each prized recruit is seen as a long term impediment.    

Virginia just hauled in one of Bennett’s best classes for 2022.  Four signees, all highly regarded.  When they’ve had those types of classes in the past, it’s often been followed by a lean year or two.  

Their situation is a little different this time, however.  Because of transfer departures.  They’ve lost three transfers from the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes that have never been replaced. Those are players that would have been upperclassmen when the 2023 group arrives.  That’s left UVA with more scholarships available than is typically the case after a big class, and more opportunity for recruits to get on the court early in their careers.  

Only once has Bennett had more than two recruits during the early signing period after bringing in a class of four or more the previous year. And that was way back in 2011 when he was getting started.  Right now, he’s trying to fill four spots for 2023.  It’s uncharted territory.  No one expects them to duplicate last year, but it shouldn’t be as hard as some of those lean years from the past either.

The same reasons that make 2023 somewhat easier also make it more important than before.  As good as the 2022 group is, they need to continue adding quality pieces to build another national title contender. 

Will the Hoos get on the board early?

Virginia hasn’t gotten their first commit for the 2023 class yet.  And that’s okay. Only four out of fifteen ACC teams have.  But If you’re trying to put together a big class, it usually starts with an early commit or two.  And in another six weeks, it won’t be early anymore.     

The start of the July live periods is an important benchmark in recruiting.  It’s the last chance for recruits to be seen, and for coaches to decide which rising seniors to pursue.  The recruits that commit before that are called early commits because they’ve passed up that last opportunity to earn new scholarship offers. 

*Data only includes early signing period

Getting recruits on board early has been crucial to Bennett’s success, particularly when putting together big classes.  Only twice has he signed multiple players without at least one of them committing before the July periods.  In 2011, Paul Jesperson was the first commit in late July.  He was joined in the fall by Malcolm Brogdon and Darion Atkins, both offered in July..  During the rough 2018 cycle, Kody Stattmann committed first in late August.  Followed by Kihei Clark in October.  

There’s always a run of commits in late June and early July ahead of those live periods, as coaches push to get top targets locked up so they can focus on others.  UVA is clearly being aggressive.  They’ve already had Blake Buchanan and Freddie Dilione on official visits.  Jamie Kaiser and TJ Power will be on grounds next week. Milan Momcilovic is expected soon as well. None of them are obvious candidates to commit soon, but the early ones usually come as a surprise.

If UVA actually does sign four in November, history suggests it’ll start with one relatively soon.

How patient will UVA be?

As anybody that’s followed UVA recruiting knows, Tony Bennett is not a fan of drawn out recruitments. Eventually, he always draws a line in the sand.  Not once in the last twelve recruiting cycles has UVA gotten a commitment after September from a player that received their offer before July.  That’s highly unusual, probably unique.

Unlike in the past, they’ll almost surely still be recruiting some of the current targets in late summer or even early fall.  It’ll be a result of a subtle change in strategy. They’re doing less early recruiting, targeting fewer players.  That puts more of an emphasis on spring offers, which have never been a big part of the Bennett portfolio before.  Only three UVA commits in the last twelve years received their offers in spring.  

*Data only includes early signing period

Of course, UVA did recruit a few players early. They struck out. The good news is they struck out very early, and were able to focus on finding new players this spring. So instead of trying to close out long established targets this time of year, they’re diving into new recruitments.  Maybe they’ll still pull one off by July, that’s certainly the hope.  But most of them are just getting started.  They’ll need to continue recruiting them through the summer.  

Bennett has always used July as the fallback. Almost a total reset really. If early recruits don’t commit by then, he finds new guys in July.  UVA has had incredible success identifying and landing those late risers, in large part because Bennett trusts his judgement and goes all in for them.

I’ll be curious to see how he balances the continued pursuit of spring targets with those players that emerge over the summer.  It’ll blend together more than we’re used to.  

Do they need a pure point guard?

UVA is in the market for a point guard in the 2023 class.  It’s by far their most urgent need.  They have an opportunity for the right player to contribute immediately, and then take over the reins as a sophomore.  There’s an argument to be made that this is the most important recruit in quite a while.  He’ll be running the show for a team that has a chance to be very special. 

They’ve already swung and missed on a pair of elite point guards. Caleb Foster chose Duke early on last fall.  And then of course, there was the London Johnson soap opera.  All signs point to him skipping college for the NBA G-League.  

The two early targets were both prototypical pure floor generals that fit the mold of what you usually expect under Bennett at UVA.  The new top guy on the wish list, Freddie Dilione, is very different.  He’s more of a score-first guard who’s transitioning into the point guard role.  Decision making is a work in progress.  He’s extremely talented, capable of being just as good if not better than the earlier names, only with different strengths. 

There’s no doubt UVA will stay the course with Dilione.  He’s a terrific player, should easily be top 50 ranked when it’s over, and they clearly like him a lot.  But he’s unlikely to commit soon, and they’ll certainly keep looking for new recruits this summer. 

It’ll be interesting to see what type of guard is next to turn Bennett’s head.  Does he look for a true floor general, or does he prefer a bucket-getter like Dilione?  

Does the in-state drought end?

The last true in-state recruit to sign with Virginia out of high school was BJ Stith back in the 2014 class.  Eight years without an in-state recruit.  It’s amazing.  Both that UVA has managed to continue to have the success they’ve had without players from Virginia, and that their success hasn’t led to getting those recruits.  

I get asked about it all the time, and don’t have a great explanation. The staff has tried to recruit their share. Maybe they haven’t always given them enough preference, I don’t know.  There’s been no discount though, that’s for sure.  Similar programs around the country have an easier time recruiting in their home areas.  UVA seems to have to work just as hard to get a kid from Richmond as one from the Midwest.  

They have an opportunity to end that drought. The newest offer went to Jamie Kaiser from Burke, Virginia.  He started his high school career at Lake Braddock then transferred to Bishop Ireton in Alexandria.  After a big spring of AAU, he’s suddenly one of the hottest recruits in the country.  

I think they have a good chance, but it won’t be easy.  His list of offers seems to grow each day.  Indiana, Maryland, and Miami are some of the latest.  Wisconsin seems to be the top competition.  He’s scheduled an official visit to UVA for June 2nd.  The Hoos are in full pursuit.  He’s first on their wish list at shooting guard.  

I know this. It would mean quite a bit to a lot of fans, including myself, to see VA in the bio of a player in the lineup again.. Let’s hope Jamie ends the drought.

(Featured Image: Hoop Group)

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