Virginia Will Have Something Rare In College Basketball – Experience


CHARLOTTE — After a season in which Virginia’s men’s basketball team fell short of established coach Tony Bennett’s established 14-year-old coach, the Cavaliers sought to regroup over the summer during a one-week trip to Italy that included four exhibition games.

They have returned to Charlottesville not only with a 3-1 record but also more inspired to reclaim their place as one of the nation’s preeminent programs after settling on a debut at NIT which is in part attributable to a roster lacking in experience, quality and depth.

On the other hand, this season’s squad is made up of five starters plus a batch of boosters that includes relocation Ben Vander Place and a freshman class which Bennett notes has grown significantly thanks to an extended time together internationally.

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“It was an amazing experience,” Virginia guard Kei Clark said Wednesday during the ACC media day. “I think as a team, just to be able to get those 10 days before the flight, the formal practice, going for a full two hours is really important, just to be ahead of a lot of the teams that don’t get to practice like that.”

Schools are allowed to travel abroad for show games every four years, although the coronavirus pandemic is on that schedule.

Prior to last summer, the Cavaliers’ last overseas trip was to Spain in 2016, providing an invaluable bonding opportunity for members of the team that won the school’s first and only national championship in 2019.

Clarke was a rookie that season and remembers how players like Kyle Guy, T. Jerome and da Andre Hunter, the core that propelled the Cavaliers to the national title, grew in the wake of the return from Spain, where Bennett was able. Provide additional instructions regarding packet line defense.

The contact during the regular session also resulted in one of the most memorable sequences in program history during the NCAA Regional Final when Clark chased a loose ball and passed to Mamadi Diakite, whose bell-hopper forced into overtime against Purdue.

Then Virginia got an 80-75 . win To apply to Final Four in Minneapolis.

“Kihei and I have been together forever, and that’s a good thing, a great thing,” Bennett said. “Last year our depth wasn’t great, maybe we didn’t hit the ball at the level we needed to, so we tried to improve in those areas, but the experience is golden, I think, in college basketball, and we have that – that.”

An opportunity to pursue another national championship contributed to Clark’s decision to return for a fifth year. So, too, he had lengthy conversations with Bennett and his teammates, including Jayden Gardner, the Cavaliers’ top scorer last season.

Gardner moved to Virginia from East Carolina ahead of the 2021-22 start, and while the Cavaliers immediately benefited from his mid-range jump, soft touches around the edge and rebounding at both ends, his comfort level with the pack line took noticeably longer to thrive. .

Since then, Gardner’s command of Bennett’s distinctive defensive alignment has reached a level of expertise as new teammates, particularly those in the forward area, seek out Gardner’s insights into guarding head-on, rotating alongside assist and positioning in the plotted area.

“I think this year, just slowing down the defense for me and getting used to it and knowing where to be and also cheering the guys through their first year because I’ve had it,” Gardner said. “I think that was a huge step for my development on the defensive side, being ahead of the game, ahead of the curve, so I’m excited for this team.”

Other Virginia starters in addition to Gardner and Clark are upper class as well. Ranger Armand Franklin, who moved last year from Indiana, is one of the seniors. Midfielder Caden Shedrick is a junior in a red shirt. And the primary guard, Reese Beckman, is a novice.

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Vander Plas, the highest projected reserve in the frontal region, arrives from Ohio University as a graduate student, and Argentine Center Francisco Cavaro, a student of the age of Little Red Riding Hood, started in last season’s times.

The only new player expected to have significant playing time is Isaac McNeely, the 6-foot-4 goalkeeper, twice named West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year. McKneely is also familiar with the pack line, having played defense with similar principles in high school.

“Personally, this is probably the oldest team I’ve ever had,” Bennett said. “I think why Virginia and even where I was before whether as an assistant or head coach, Washington State and other stations, we have mature teams, teams that have guys in their senior years that have grown through playing experience. Again, that has always been the formula.”


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