Bring up the name Anthony Gill to people in the Virginia men’s basketball program and they talk as if they have been stashing a DeLorean in the John Paul Jones Arena parking garage.
Gill, a transfer from South Carolina who is sitting out this season (per NCAA rules), is a 6-foot-8, 229-pound forward who would likely be starting for UVa right now if he were eligible.
Too bad coach Tony Bennett can’t find a way to jump ahead to 2014.
“Anthony is a really good player,” said Virginia junior Joe Harris. “He always practices against us when he’s on the scout team and he’s just a beast down low. He’s just really physical. He’s as good or better than most of the guys he’s trying to simulate.”
Akil Mitchell, who was Gill’s high school teammate at Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High, says his buddy has helped him become a better defender.
“He’s one of the tougher mismatches on the floor because he can shoot the ball and put the ball on the floor, and is so physical. And he’s quick, too. Guarding him helps me a lot in guarding other guys.”
Landing Gill has been, arguably, Bennett’s biggest recruiting score to date.
After South Carolina hired coach Frank Martin to replace Darrin Horn, Gill elected to transfer – and he had plenty of suitors, including Ohio State and North Carolina.
At one point in the recruiting process, Gill was given a day by Tar Heels coach Roy Williams to give him a yes or a no.
Gill said no, went on a visit to Ohio State, then picked Virginia a few days later.
“Coach Bennett and the coaching staff were top of the line and were honest with me from the beginning,” Gill said. “And the players – I really liked hanging out with them and the atmosphere here at Virginia was just great.”
Having grown up in North Carolina, was it hard to say no to a legend like Williams?
“It was harder to say no to Thad Matta,” said Gill, referring to the Buckeyes coach, “[but] UVa was a great choice in the end.”
Coming out of high school, Gill and Virginia had mutual interest in each other.
However, when Gill attended UVa’s summer elite camp, he had a broken wrist and nose and Bennett and his staff didn’t get to evaluate him the way they had hoped.
Gill wound up going to South Carolina, where he averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds as a freshman. He started 26 of 31 games for the Gamecocks and shot 45 percent from the field, including 39 percent (11 of 28) from 3-point range.
Since arriving in Charlottesville, Gill, known as "AG," has focused on improving his jumper, his ball handling and his aggression on the court.
“It’s definitely tough [not playing], but I can definitely feel myself getting better,” he said, “so I just come out every day and work and try and get my teammates better.”
Bennett has a sparkle in his eye when he talks about Gill.
“I’m excited for Anthony for next year,” Bennett said. “He’s getting better in practice. He’s real physical. I think people will enjoy seeing that. He loves contact. I think he’s going to live at that free-throw line or get there a lot. He has a knack in practice – whether it’s drawing contact, drawing fouls and he has a nose for the ball.
“He really likes physicality and is versatile. He can play some in the post, step out and do some things.”
A few people have compared Gill to former Virginia star Mike Scott. Coincidentally, Scott is a player who Gill has enjoyed watching on television and has patterned some moves after.
“Mike had that beautiful touch,” Bennett said. “I don’t think [Gill’s] got that, but he’s probably a little better off the dribble [than Scott] and he likes contact a little more as far as drawing fouls.
“Obviously, he’ll only be a sophomore next year and Mike was a lot older and what Mike was at the end was pretty impressive. Time will tell.”
Mitchell says Gill has “his own kind of style.”
“He’s a face-up 4, but he’s so physical,” Mitchell said. “He gets into the paint and gets into your body and is a great finisher. Mike was a little more finesse.”
Mitchell says it’s hard not to get excited about a lineup next season that will feature, among others, Harris, Anderson, Gill and, with any luck, a healthy Malcolm Brogdon.
“I make fun of [senior Jontel Evans] all the time and tell him he’s not going to get to play with that team,” said Mitchell, smiling. “We talk about it a lot. We have to finish out this year first, but we’re all excited to get Malcolm back and see ‘AG’ in full action.”
Gill will wear No. 13 next season.
“The guys are playing great this year,” Gill said, “and then next year we’ll have even more weapons and be even deeper. I’m very excited.”