Mailbag: Circled Games, Redshirts, Sanchez, & Recruiting

(Matt Riley/UVA Athletics)

Lots of fan questions from twitter in this edition of the Locker Room Access mailbag. Topics include circled games, the impact of Ron Sanchez's return, projected starters and redshirts, comparing Ryan Dunn to DeAndre Hunter, and a bunch of recruiting talk as always.

Any non-conference games that you have circled on your calendar? Any particular individual match-ups that you think will be telling for the rest of the season? @CamCWood

Fans aren’t enthused about the matchup with Wisconsin in Ft. Myers, but I suspect some of the players are very much looking forward to that game. Reece Beekman, Leon Bond, and Andrew Rohde are all Wisconsin natives, along with Tony Bennett of course. The Badgers didn’t recruit Bond or Rohde, which I’m sure they haven’t forgotten.

The Texas A&M game in the new ACC/SEC Challenge is intriguing to me. We all remember what Buzz Williams teams are like. They play an aggressive attacking style and use a lot of small-ball lineups. It’ll be a good test. Especially for the new players, to gauge where they’re at

Projected starting 5? First off the bench for each position? @DieselJenkins31

We can safely pencil in four starters. Reece Beekman, Isaac McKneely, Ryan Dunn, and Jordan Minor. Beyond that, it’ll be very competitive. My prediction is for transfer guard Andrew Rohde to eventually join the starting lineup, but there are four or five players that legitimately have a shot.

Transfer forward Jacob Groves should have a significant role. They need his shooting in the frontcourt to provide spacing. There’s an opportunity for freshman big man Blake Buchanan to backup Minor.

The most compelling competition will be for guard minutes. Georgetown transfer Dante Harris brings a lot of experience. Junior Taine Murray has paid his dues. Talented freshman Elijah Gertrude will be hard to keep off the court. And Leon Bond should compete for time at both guard and forward. There’s probably only room for one or two from that group in the rotation.

Seems like Leon Bond may be the X-factor this season. What can fans reasonably expect? @jiccupper

Leon Bond is a wildcard this year for sure. Anytime a player redshirts, you’re not sure what to expect. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen him play. And he’s a bit of an unusual player, which is part of why he redshirted. There were some adjustments needed for the college game.

As much as anything, I’m anxious to see how he’ll be used positionally. And that’ll go a long way in determining what kind of role he may be able to carve out. Leon played power forward pretty much exclusively in high school. His offensive game was mid-range and in. It’ll be interesting to see how much he’s improved in the skill department, especially perimeter shooting.

My guess is he’ll end up on the fringe of the rotation, where he may play a lot in some games and not at all in others. But if it turns out he’s made a leap this past year, there could be a much larger role in store.

Ryan Dunn’s on ball defense first year on court or Dre’s? @uvanatskinshms

I’m hesitant to answer because some analytics guy is bound to pull out stats to show how wrong I am. But I feel like it’s Ryan Dunn, and maybe by a lot. Now we’re only comparing on-ball defense and only first years, because obviously DeAndre Hunter developed into an all-time great defender and as a redshirt-freshman he probably had a better command of his rotational duties.

What sets Dunn apart is that he can not only switch and defend just about anyone in much the same way Dre did, but he also blocks shots at a high rate. It’ll be interesting to see, however, if Dunn can maintain the same level of defensive effort this season while being expected to contribute more as a scorer. DeAndre Hunter was a star on both ends of the court.

Couple of redshirt questions, since it’s everyone’s favorite topic. 1) Is the plan still for Anthony Robinson to redshirt this season? 2) Is Elijah Gertrude’s recovery going well enough that he doesn’t need a medical redshirt? @Adrian_Vigil

Occasionally, there’s an understanding beforehand with recruits that they would be agreeable to redshirting. That was the case with freshman big man Anthony Robinson. He’s impressed this summer. People around the program are excited about his future. I expect he will end up redshirting, but final decisions aren’t made on that until just before the season starts.

Freshman guard Elijah Gertrude suffered a torn ACL in late October. I think he’s pretty much recovered at this point. It’s been nine months. They seem to be easing him into full activities, but he’s been involved in summer workouts. I’d be very surprised by a redshirt.

What kind of impact (recruiting/on the court) has bringing back Coach Sanchez had? @RU_Hoos

What’s clear to me from following the recruiting side this summer is that Bennett has total trust in Ron Sanchez. We saw him doing some of the evaluation work that is typically reserved for Tony. It was like he was the substitute when the boss was busy elsewhere.

Sanchez has brought back a west coast recruiting presence too, which they haven’t really had since he left.

The perfect example of both those points is Jacob Cofie. The 2024 forward from Seattle is scheduled for an official visit on September 8th. Bennett has never seen him play in-person, yet UVA is in full pursuit because of Ron Sanchez.

What’s the latest on Christian Bliss’s decision on whether to reclassify into the 2023 class? @ChrisBoynton

When 2024 George School (PA) point guard Christian Bliss committed in late June, word was that he would probably move back to his original 2023 class and enroll for the fall semester. I don’t know for sure what he’ll do. If he does reclassify, we’ll find out soon. He would need to enroll in late August.

Would you say that UVA’s biggest recruiting need is a skilled forward or big to pair with Bliss? Where do we stand with our top 2024 targets? @Aaron_Barham

UVA is hoping to add a skilled forward to their 2024 class. There are three guys they’re after for one spot. August is the time of year when rising seniors are trimming their lists and planning fall visits.

Eastside Catholic (WA) forward Jacob Cofie is scheduled to visit first on September 8th. Southern Cal, Washington, and Virginia seem like his top contenders. St. Rose (NJ) forward Matthew Hodge has set six visits, including a trip to Charlottesville on September 21st. The Hoos are battling Villanova and Maryland for him. And Dynamic Prep (TX) forward David Punch hasn’t planned a visit to UVA as of yet.

Then there’s the big prize Kon Knueppel out of Wisconsin Lutheran. The only guard Bennett is pursuing, he’ll visit on September 14th sandwiched between trips to Alabama and Duke.

What are the odds we know our entire 2024 class by end of September? Intentionally sneaky question. @zanchema

There’s a real chance we’ll know UVA’s entire early signing period class by the end of September. Extend it into the first week of October and odds are probably in favor of that. It would mostly come down to whether one of the three forwards being recruited commits by then. Kon Knueppel most likely will have already decided. And I’m not sure UVA will bother recruiting another guard in his place if they miss out on Kon.

However, it’s doubtful we’ll know the full 2024 class this fall. That’s what makes it a sneaky question. Even if they were to land the two recruits as hoped, there would still be further activity for the late signing period next spring. For one thing, several of the recently offered 2025 recruits were originally in the 2024 class. Making them prime reclassification candidates later.

UVA made a boatload of 2025 offers this summer. I count 11 total offers made to the 2025 class so far! Who are the top 3 or 4 offers that coaches will be ultra-highly prioritizing? @tom_majdanics

There’s been a flurry of 2025 scholarship offers in recent weeks. UVA has extended 11 total offers to the class so far. It’s a bit different than the last few years when they were kind of tight making early offers.

I think of early offers as setting the table. No matter how many items are on the table, you still only get one plate to fill. The plate in this case represents the coaching staff’s limited time on the road in the months ahead, particularly Bennett’s. So for the most part, it’s to be determined which recruits will be seriously pursued.

All signs point to St. Anne’s-Belfield (VA) guard Chance Mallory being important to UVA. They’ve already put real effort into his recruitment. I’m intrigued to find out which forwards get an extra dose of attention. Jacob Wilkins (GA), Nate Ament (VA), and London Jemison (CT) all seem like strong candidates to me.

Any updates for Chance Mallory? Do you think the staff is hoping to lock him up early? @ankmed04

2025 St. Anne’s-Belfield guard Chance Mallory was offered a scholarship while on an unofficial visit in late June. He had a fantastic summer of AAU, leading the entire Under Armour circuit in offensive efficiency. It was kind of a no-brainer for UVA to enter the mix for the hometown product.

He’s the 2025 recruit that’s gotten the most of Bennett’s attention so far. I think UVA is the favorite in his recruitment and they’re pretty determined to get him. It’s not a sure thing at all though. A lot of high-major programs have extended offers. He’s taken recent unofficial visits to Maryland and VA Tech.

It’s very early for rising juniors. There’s no need for coaches to be super aggressive. But yeah, I do expect Bennett will try to make his case in hopes of getting Mallory to go ahead and commit to the home team this fall. The other aspect with Chance is he was originally in the 2024 class, so he could choose to move back up.

On a scale of 1-10 how important is this year for uva to succeed given the amount of players uva is recruiting (like 2025) for the future? @HoozDefense

I’ll go with 3. Individual success is more important for recruiting. Reece Beekman being drafted in the first round next summer would be great. One of the young players having a breakout season, even better. Of course, if players do well the team will too. So it all comes full circle.

UVA under Bennett has a long track record of winning and developing pros. I just don’t think one season will change any perceptions for better or worse. The brand is what it is at this point. And that’s okay, it’s a strong brand.

(Featured Image Credit: Matt Riley/UVA Athletics)

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