The selection of De’Andre Hunter as the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft is part of a story that is seemingly unique in college basketball circles.
Seldom has a prospect of Hunter’s promise been redshirted for seasoning purposes.
That’s basically what happened prior to the 2016-17 season, when Virginia coach Tony Bennett made the decision to sit Hunter for what turned out to be a 23-11 campaign.
Certainly, the Cavaliers saw promise in Hunter, listed as a guard on the 2016-17 roster, but Virginia also had a pair of veteran shooting guards that received ample playing time, Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson.
When Shayok transferred to Iowa State and Thompson left for Western Kentucky, the stage was set for Hunter to become a prime-time player.
Even so, he did not start a single game as a redshirt freshman during a 31-3 UVa campaign in 2017-18, when he averaged 9.2 points while playing 19.9 minutes per game.
He was in his third year at UVa before his first start — last November against Towson.
If you were Virginia, would you do anything differently?
Not after winning a national championship.
The redshirting of Hunter was not a unique situation. In the same recruiting class that included two other selections in Thursday’s NBA Draft — Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy — UVa head coach Tony Bennett held out 7-footer Jay Huff.
There will be four former or current redshirts on Virginia’s projected 2018-19 roster, including Mamadi Diakite, one of the heroes of UVa’s national championship run.
Diakite, from Guinea, originally made himself available for the NBA Draft, only to remove his name from consideration in the final minutes before a May 29 deadline.
The only player who was redshirted last year was Francisco Caffaro, a 7-foot, 233-pound freshman from Argentina by way of the NBA’s Global Academy in Canberra, Australia.
So, what becomes of UVa’s redshirting policy now? Now that the Cavaliers have won a national championship and have shown some of the earmarks of a perennial contender, they are likely to become involved with more highly recruited players.
Hunter, Jerome and Guy were not touted as potential one-and-done prospects or even three-and-done prospects. Now, Virginia appears more likely to draw the interest of the nation’s elite prospects.
Virginia men’s basketball has never had a higher profile and NBA Draft results have only enhanced that. UVa has hosted the NBA Top 100 camp for years but that hasn’t benefited the Cavaliers to the point where rivals have complained publicly.
When Louisiana point guard Reece Beekman announced his decision to commit to Virginia, it coincided with this year’s camp, and he was surrounded by media at an impromptu press conference following a game. Among other things, he mentioned his efforts to woo a fellow 2020 UVa target, Keon Johnson, at the event.
Rivals.com rates Beekman as the No. 13 point guard in the 2020 class and Johnson, from Tennessee, is rated the No. 10 shooting guard. Recruiting sites are reporting that New Jersey small forward Jabri Abdur-Rahim, the leading scorer at the NBA Top 100 camp, will return to Charlottesville next week for a visit.
Throw in three 2018-19 signees, junior-college transfer Tomas Woldetensae and Marquette transfer Sam Hauser, who will be ineligible in 2019-20 but will count against the 13-scholarship limit, and the Cavaliers are quickly running out of room
Of course, as UVa has learned, there’s no discounting the possibility of a player making an early exit for the NBA.
For years, the Cavaliers have been immune to that. Also, for years, the Virginia program hadn’t won a national championship. UVa is in the big time now, and if three underclassmen are selected in the NBA Draft, it doesn’t represent the downfall of the program.