Planning Virginia's Spring Patch Job
The crazy season hit full stride this week. There are over 1,000 D1 men’s basketball players in the transfer portal now, including three Wahoos. Sophomores Casey Morsell and Justin McKoy along with freshman Jabri Abdur-Rahim have all opted to leave UVA.
While it stings to lose talented young players we had high hopes for, it’s also an opportunity to upgrade through incoming transfers. That may seem coarse, but it’s the new reality of major college athletics. It’s time to examine the remaining roster and the Spring patch job ahead.
Assessing the Damage
The departures leave Virginia with eight scholarship players as things stand. We’re not completely out of the transfer storm’s reach yet, but I think the worst of it is probably over. Quite frankly, those were the three at the center of most of the speculation. There’s also still a pending decision from Trey Murphy on whether to enter the NBA Draft. It’s possible that takes some time, as he could choose to go through the process while keeping open the option to return to college.
There’s obviously some holes to fill, both in the backcourt and especially on the frontline. In terms of total numbers, we can expect at least two additions because 10 players seems to be Tony Bennett’s acceptable minimum. Ideally, there will be more than that. Roster building is more like chess than checkers though. They have to consider the long term implications, not just next season.
The Missing Guard
Even before the transfers, Virginia hoped to add one really good guard for next season. I don’t think that’s changed at all. Numbers really aren’t a problem. They still have five returning guards as things stand. The issue is what’s missing, a proven college scorer. Maybe if the right opportunity is there, they’d go for a second now. But the goal is still one difference maker in the backcourt.
There are two available transfers to keep an eye on right now. Indiana sophomore Armaan Franklin (11.4 ppg) is similar to what we envisioned Casey Morsell being at this point. With good size at 6’4, he was their best perimeter defender while hitting 42% from three-point range. Virginia is in the mix there along with Louisville and a possible return to Bloomington. The other player to watch is Auburn freshman Justin Powell (11.7 ppg). The 6’6 sharpshooter was thought to be a sure thing for Kentucky before they landed Davison transfer Kellan Grady. John Calipari might still be involved, but the window is more open now for Virginia, Gonzaga, and others.
The dream that is Trevor Keels in orange and blue still lives, until Sunday anyway. The five-star guard from Paul VI would be a simple solution. It’s unlikely to happen, but we’ll find out this weekend.
Restocking the Front
Justin McKoy’s transfer won’t get as much attention as the other two, but it causes by far the biggest issue. For the same reason, that makes it a golden opportunity for someone to step into. They were already in the market for a frontcourt addition because of a lack of depth. The only remaining big men are Francisco Caffaro and Kadin Shedrick, both primarily centers and relatively inexperienced. Originally, the coaching staff seemed to have a narrow focus on a specific type of power forward. This will expand the search to a variety of players. Everything is on the table now. Two quality additions up front is the goal.
North Carolina freshman transfer Walker Kessler (4.4 ppg) is a familiar name to anyone that’s followed Virginia’s recruiting recently. We thought he was close to being a Wahoo for a short time, but it didn’t work out that way. Tony Bennett is hoping for a second chance. Gonzaga is considered the favorite, but UVA is firmly in the hunt. Michigan and Tennessee are involved too. In an interesting twist, there’s talk that he and former AAU teammate Justin Powell could choose the same school. All parties involved would welcome the pair, but I don’t know if anyone has a more clear opportunity now than Virginia.
Bennett and staff are also involved with a pair of forwards. Boston College sophomore CJ Felder (9.7 ppg) fits into that Darion Atkins type of mold, as a versatile athletic defender. Texas A&M and Florida are in deep, both having already done multiple Zoom calls. A new name into the portal yesterday was East Carolina junior Jayden Gardner (18.3 ppg). Bennett was quick to pounce. They’re scheduled for a Zoom call today. He’s been a dominant force in the AAC for three seasons, and will be one of the most prized transfers of the Spring.
Should Trey Murphy end up staying in school, this won’t be an immediate problem. They’ll have that big wing that can slide down to the four-spot in small ball lineups, which is almost essential in today’s game. If he moves on, it’ll need to be addressed. The solution probably would be another hybrid forward who fulfills both needs as a wing and a “big man” in one. It’s something to watch for. If Murphy goes, the number of players added might not change. But the type they target would shift a little.
The larger issue is with Jabri Abdur-Rahim moving on. It’s now a long term hole in the lineup. Their top class of 2022 target in that role, Bobi Klintman from Sweden, isn’t someone they can count on to step into a large immediate role. Whether it’s this Spring, or potentially next if Murphy stays, look for them to work the transfer portal for another jumbo wing.
Virginia will certainly add new players this Spring that will contribute next season and beyond. Frankly, I expect them to do very well in the transfer market. But they’ll also make every effort to protect their position with 2022 recruits along the way. In a month or so, attention will turn back to high school juniors. I’ll be writing about their performances on the AAU shoe circuits and Virginia’s new offers. Bennett has visions of a reload class here. He won’t let it be interfered with easily.
UVA currently has five scholarships available for next season. But it’s the 2022-23 number they’re most concerned with. Ideally, Bennett wants room for five new Hoos that year. Four at least. Right now, he could add three multi-year transfers while keeping his full allotment of five for 2022. They’ll be very careful about considering young players. They have to be worth what they’ll cost in 2022 recruiting.
I know some fans worry about losing these transfers. But I think you’ll find the Virginia Basketball program is healthier and more talented when the dust settles. So far, they’ve taken their losses. The coaching staff is going to work now to replace them with upgrades. You can follow along with the latest on our Available Transfer Board on the Locker Room Access forum.