Intel Report 6/23/23: Back On The Road

Intel Report 6/23/23: Back On The Road

The latest on Virginia Basketball recruiting. What we’re hearing about this week’s official visitor. Where UVA coaches will be during this weekend’s live evaluation period. And whispers from summer workouts. All in this edition of the Locker Room Access Intel Report.

Summer Practices Are Underway

Virginia’s entire 2023-24 team is back on grounds. Newcomers included, all together for the first time. Summer practices are underway. And so are the whispers from people around JPJ.

The headline is that freshman guard Elijah Gertrude appears to be close to fully recovered. He suffered a torn ACL in late October that cost him his senior season at Hudson Catholic (NJ). According to witnesses, he’s been participating in workouts without wearing a knee brace. I don’t know if he’s doing everything yet, but it’s clear that he’s well ahead of schedule.

Tony Bennett loves his freshman big man Blake Buchanan. The focus for him in the months ahead is on adding strength and hopefully putting on some pounds along with that. He’ll be expected to contribute immediately this season. While he’s a physical player by nature, they think adding some good weight will help him sustain through the ACC schedule.

Summer whispers always center around the new guys. Transfer guard Andrew Rohde has been a standout. With his size and skill, “he’s just hard to guard” as one person put it. And transfer forward Jordan Minor passes the eye test too. His listed size, 6’8” 240 lbs, looks to be legit.

Point Guard Week

This past week was all about point guard recruiting. The coaching staff made it a priority to go see both of their top targets during last weekend’s live period. And George School (PA) point guard Christian Bliss just completed his official visit to Charlottesville after arriving on Wednesday. .

Christian Bliss is down to a final four of Virginia, Miami, Villanova, and Xavier. Tony Bennett spent most of last weekend courtside for DMV Live at DeMatha, primarily for Bliss. All four finalists had coaches on hand, but Bennett was the only head coach to stay for both days and all four of Bliss’s games. That was part of the full court press leading into his visit.

The first recruiting trip for Ron Sanchez since his return to the staff was to Southern California last week to see and be seen by Harvard Westlake (CA) point guard Trent Perry. UVA has gained ground with him lately. I’ve heard they’re working to set up a visit. He’s already taken official visits to Southern Cal, Colorado, St.Mary’s, and Vanderbilt. A decision is still probably a couple months away.

And Bennett also checked out a point guard who doesn’t yet have a scholarship offer. His first stop on Friday was at the Virginia Live event in Alexandria to see St. Christopher’s (VA) point guard Brandon Jennings. He’s one of those summer risers they’ll continue to evaluate during the upcoming AAU period in early July.

Bliss Visit

Virginia hosted George School (PA) point guard Christian Bliss on an official visit this week. His third official after visiting Villanova in April and Xavier earlier this week. Miami will likely get a turn soon as well. Bliss is expected to decide by early July.

It was good timing to have a visitor. With all the players back, he was able to meet everybody and watch practices. Bennett’s basketball camp for kids was going on, and that’s always a fun week. Plus they had a special guest. Ty Jerome was in town. He and Bliss share the connection as New York City point guards. Bliss even plays for Ty’s old AAU team.

There’s growing optimism following his visit. UVA felt like a bit of an underdog going in, but that’s no longer the case. The big thing is, they don’t get the impression that he’s leaning hard toward any other school. Villanova has been considered the favorite, and it’s certainly possible he ends up there. But it’s a winnable race and Bennett is the one closing hardest as we near the finish line.

Bliss will be in action this weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Independent School event in New Jersey. Expect someone from UVA to be in attendance as they continue the press.

Skilled Forward Wanted

The Jarin Stevenson saga came to a merciful end with his commitment to Alabama on Wednesday. There were a lot of twists in his recruitment. In the end, he was determined to reclassify and Alabama was the one acceptable choice where he had a realistic chance at an immediate role.

The hunt for a skilled forward will be a major theme the rest of the way. Along with a point guard, those are their top needs. UVA has a great opportunity available. They’re thin in the frontcourt. And there’s also a real possibility of losing Ryan Dunn to the NBA after this season. ESPN has him as a first round pick for 2024 in very early projections.

We’ve talked a lot about The Rock School (FL) forward Ryan Jones Jr already. He’ll get his chances in front of the UVA coaches soon, maybe this weekend. Florida has come on strong with him. They look like the team to beat right now. But his recruitment should last into the fall. It’s just getting started.

St.Rose (NJ) forward Matthew Hodge is a new name to know. He turned heads at Philly LIve last weekend, including a 40-point outburst. UVA had an assistant on hand to see him on Sunday. David Punch of Dynamic Prep (TX) and William Jobe of King’s Ridge (GA) will both be evaluated soon. And no doubt there will be others to emerge.

Kon or Bust

Tony Bennett is expected at the event in Wisconsin on Friday to see Kon Knueppel. UVA believes they’re in a really good position with him. That was reinforced to me this week. There’s a special relationship between him and Bennett. Distance is the only hurdle. And in a twist from what I’ve thought, apparently UVA folks consider Marquette the main competition more so than Wisconsin.

Knueppel just completed a round of visits, officials to Ohio State and Louisville, along with unofficial visits to Wisconsin and Marquette. He was the first 2024 recruit to officially visit UVA back in February. A late summer or early fall decision seems to be the plan. In the meantime, there could be heavy hitters to join the race this summer.

This is headed for a Kon or bust situation for Virginia. The addition of transfer Andrew Rohde made it so that a wing in the 2024 class was a luxury. It’s a distant third on their list of needs behind point guard and a skilled forward. I don’t expect them to devote much if any energy toward evaluating other candidates.

Paul VI (VA) wing Isaiah Abraham is the one other guy in that spot they’ve been involved with. Even if he visits again, which he’s talked about, I don’t expect him to end up at UVA. It’s a Big East battle at this point between Providence, Marquette, and UConn. From what I heard this week, UVA has pretty well moved on.

Weekend Hot Spots

There’s a bunch of events this weekend involving players of interest. More than the coaching staff can attend.

Where UVA's Top Targets Will Be

Fresh off his visit, Christian Bliss will be with his George School squad at the Mid-Atlantic Independent School Camp in New Jersey. UVA is expected to attend, probably Coach Vandross. 2025 Perkiomen (PA) guard KJ Cochran is another player of interest there.

Harvard Westlake (CA) point guard Trent Perry is at the Section 7 event in Arizona. That’s a huge event with teams from all over the west and lots of players to evaluate. UVA will be on hand. Bishop Gorman (NV) guard Jase Richardson, who has UVA in his top 8, is also there.

As I mentioned, Tony Bennett is expected at the event in Wisconsin for Kon Knueppel. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s the only destination for the UVA boss or if he makes a second stop later in the weekend.

And forward Ryan Jones Jr. will play at the small event for Florida private schools. I don’t know whether anyone from UVA plans to attend. .

Other Events

Coach Williford will be around DC for DMV Live at DeMatha and DC Live at Sidwell. It’s a 2025 buffet there. The Gonzaga (DC) duo, guard Derek Dixon and big man Christian Gurdak, among many others.

There are big events in Texas and Georgia where UVA coaches could pop up. Forwards David Punch of Dynamic Prep (TX) and William Jobe of King’s Ridge (GA) being the main 2024 recruits of interest in each place.

They’ll most likely have an assistant at the two events in North Carolina. 2025 recruits Jackson Keith, Colt Langdon, and Bryce Slay are the main draw for UVA.

And St. Christopher’s (VA) point guard Brandon Jennings will be in action at the Virginia Live event held at Blue Ridge School.

What's Ahead

Top 100 Camp is up next. Coaches will be in Orlando on Wednesday and Thursday for that. The roster isn’t released yet. But most if not all of UVA’s top targets should be there. It’s a busy time on the recruiting front, and we haven’t even gotten back into the AAU season yet. That’s coming in early July.

Things are looking up a bit. Stay tuned, and thanks for subscribing to Locker Room Access.

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