When Marquette coach Buzz Williams shocked the college basketball world in March and took over at Virginia Tech, Marial Shayok was essentially back to square one in his college decision-making process.
Shayok could stay at Marquette and play for new coach Steve Wojciechowski. He could go play in the Big Ten, where both Michigan and Indiana wanted him. Perhaps head to the SEC — Florida was interested.
Another option was to follow Williams — the coach he had first pledged his commitment to — and go to Blacksburg.
And then there was Virginia, which had finished a very close runner-up to Marquette when he had made his original decision in the fall.
In the end, despite a late push by the Hokies, Shayok said it was an easy choice.
“[Williams] did try and get me to go to Virginia Tech,” Shayok said, “but I was really interested in Virginia because of how established they were. I felt like they were on the way up and I just couldn’t miss on the opportunity again.”
Shayok, a 6-foot-6, 207-pound wing from Ottawa, Canada with Dinka heritage — his parents were born into the Sudanese tribe — has been attending summer school at UVa for the last few weeks.
With the exception of straining his hamstring in his first-ever college practice, Shayok said he’s loved everything about his brief time in Charlottesville.
“I like it that everyone here loves their sports — the baseball thing was pretty exciting,” said Shayok, referring to Virginia’s appearance in the College World Series championship series last week. “I’ve never been a big fan of baseball, but to see everyone come together — that was pretty cool...
“It’s been very welcoming.”
Virginia coach Tony Bennett sounds excited about Shayok.
“He has really good feel — that’s his thing,” Bennett said. “I think he’s a serviceable [shooter] — he can bang some outside shots — but he just has a [feel]. [Fans] are going to like his game...
“He just has different ways to impact the game and has good size. Whether it’s slashing, on the glass, an occasional outside shot, passing, defensively — he has a pretty complete game.”
In addition to having Dinka in his blood, Shayok also has hoops in it. His father, Markur, was a 6-foot-9 center at the University of Dayton back in his day. Shayok has an older sister who played at the University of Detroit and is now playing overseas, as well an older brother who plays for University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Shayok is one of the ever-increasing number of talented college players to come out of Canada. Over the years, he’s played on teams with countrymen Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, the last two No. 1 overall selections in the NBA Draft, as well as Nik Stauskas, Dwight Powell and Tyler Ennis.
Shayok finished his high school career at Blair Academy, the boarding school which also produced current Virginia big man Mike Tobey. This past season, he was named the New Jersey Prep Player of the Year after leading Blair to the Prep A State Championship.
Now, Shayok is part of Virginia’s four-member recruiting class that also features wing B.J. Sith, forward Isaiah Wilkins and center Jack Salt. With the graduation of Joe Harris, there is at least one open perimeter spot, and there will be a battle for it among Shayok, Stith, redshirt freshman Devon Hall and junior Evan Nolte (though he can play some in the frontcourt, too).
Why come to Virginia, a school loaded with depth, when he could have had immediate playing time at a rebuilding program such as Virginia Tech?
“I like competition,” Shayok said. “I like competing for my minutes. I really just wanted to play on a good team that could go to a tournament and play with guys who I’m close with. I had good chemistry with the guys during my visit here.”
Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels believes Shayok’s calling card is how hard he plays.
“What stands out about him is just his energy,” Daniels told The Daily Progress in April. “He can rebound very well and can handle [the ball] well for his size.
“Every time I see him play, he’s always in attack mode. That’s what I like most about him. He’s aggressive, he’s strong, he finishes well inside and has good range. He’s just a physical wing that attacks the basket.”
Shayok said he feels most comfortable at the wing position but can also play some point guard if need be.
“I’m a very versatile player and I can get after it defensively,” said Shayok, who believes his hamstring is close to 100 percent now. “And I can score and also look for my teammates offensively, so I think [Bennett’s system] was just a perfect fit for me.”
Shayok said Virginia’s 30-7 season, which included an ACC championship and run to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen, also had a big impact on his decision to come to Charlottesville.
“After watching them play and having the connection that I had with coach Bennett, I just wanted to go to Virginia,” he said.
“I thought I could get better and also contribute a lot, too.”
The Shayok file
Hometown: Ottawa, Canada
Favorite musicians: Drake, Meek Mill
Favorite movies: “The Dark Knight,” “The Departed”
Favorite NBA team: “The Heat — starting with before LeBron got there.”
If you could meet one celebrity: “I actually met Michael Jordan...[so] probably Kobe [Bryant] or Jay-Z.”